aphrodesiacs continued…

I’m now going to list and describe many different foods that have been believed to be aphrodisiacs throughout history. Much of the evidence for these beliefs was taken from religious texts such as the Bible, the Kama Sutra, an Islamic sex manual, the Decretal of Church morality or other formal writing. Again, we must take care to remember that in many ancient civilizations, virility and immortality were often considered one in the same. Again, all of this information comes from Miriam Hospodar’s article, “Aphrodisiac Foods: Bringing Heaven to Earth” from the Fall 2004 issue of the Journal of Food and Culture (http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1525/gfc.2004.4.4.82). I have merely sorted through her article and summarized it based on types of foods and what I found most interesting.

Sweet foods
Sweet foods were often associated with the gods. The gods drank or ate their sweets to give them joy and immortality. The gods had nectar on Mt. Olympus soma in the Vedic heavens, mead in Valhalla, honey in Jerusalem, and chocolate in Aztlan. Mortals mimicked these sweets with their own earthly foods which, though not divine, were nevertheless considered powerful. Usually they were believed to be aphrodisiacs and to increase fertility and energy.

However, earthly foods that were sweet were believed to mimic these celestial droughts. Sugar in ancient China and India and honey in the rest of the ancient world were typically employed as aphrodisiacs to increase fertility and as tonics for energy and rejuvenation. Honey’s link to sex and the gods were interchangeable; it was both used in religious ceremonies and in bed. The Kama Sutra, the famous sex bible of the Hindus, contained aphrodisiac recipes and all except for one of the recipes included sugar, milk, honey, or clarified butter (which was specifically supposed to increase sperm, extend life, and bring exhilaration.

Garlic was believed by the ancient Egyptians and Greeks to give its eaters the strength needed to build pyramids and temples but also to continue their sexual endeavors when their libidos began to fade as they grew older. The Kama Sutra contains this recipe: “Mix garlic root with white pepper and licorice. When drunk with sugared milk, it enhances virility.” There’s that sugar and milk again.

Seafood was originally believed to promote lust because Aphrodite was born from the sea. The second- century Platonic philosopher and satirist, Apuleius, made a love potion for a widow he desired to marry and wrote that seafood, “must necessarily have great efficacy in exciting women to venery, inasmuch as Venus herself was born of the sea.” Europeans even believed that people are more lusty during Lent, not because it is the time of suppressed pleasure, but because people ate much more fish during lent.

Randomly (in my opinion) crocodile eggs, meat, and semen were all believed to be aphrodisiacs in ancient Europe, Asia, and the Americas. In fact, some Nepali still make a powerful aphrodisiac called Makaradwaj (crocodile sex) out of crocodile.

Glamour model Nicola McLean eating crocodile testicles on the Australian TV show "I'm a Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here"

Bread has turned up in many fascinating ways as an aphrodisiac throughout history. In fact, “fornicate” was derived from “forno” which means “oven” in Latin. From Kama Sutra recipes to gingerbread men to pumpkin pie, bread may be the surest way to a man or woman’s heart… or lust.

The Kama Sutra has a recipe for a sweet-potato cookie that was supposed to solve all of your sexual problems and more: “Crush sweet potatoes in cow’s milk, together with swayamgupta seeds [Mukunia pruriens], sugar, honey and clarified butter. Use it to make biscuits with wheat flour….By constantly eating these biscuits, one’s sperm acquires such force that it is possible to sleep with thousands of women who, in the end, will ask for pity.”
Gingerbread men were originally supposed to act as love potions for women to woo the man she desired. The ginger contained the aphrodisiac properties, but then the women crafted the bread to look like the man wanted to ensnare. When the man ate the cookie, he was said to belong to the baker forever.

The twenty-volume Decretal of Church morality written by Buchard, the bishop of Worms, wrote: “Have you done what certain women are in the habit of doing? They prostrate themselves face downwards, rump upward and uncovered, and have a loaf of bread kneaded upon their nude nates; when it has been baked, they invite their husbands to come and eat it; this they do in order to inflame their men with a greater love for them.” A similar account was recorded in a diary by John Aubrey in seventeenth-century England, although he only said that women pressed the dough against their vaginas.

In the modern day, bread still is supposed to be the most powerful aphrodisiac! Neurologist and psychiatrist Alan Hirsch conducted a study in 1995 to find the most erotically stimulating aroma to men and it revealed pumpkin pie to be the winner.

Nuts were supposed to be sperm food and were considered very important in different parts of the world for maintaining healthy sperm.

The Islamic sex manual, The Perfumed Garden written between 1410–1434, contains a recipe that advices men to eat 20 almonds and 100 pine nuts followed by a glass of thick honey for three days. In the world’s oldest known sex manual, the first-century China Classic of the Elemental Maid, a recipe calls for a mixture of walnuts, peanuts, almonds, and dates to be eaten twice a day. Hospodar pointed out that this recipe sounds a great deal like a modern day Powerbar.

Chocolate is a no-brainer. Wherever chocolate was eaten, it was believed to have divine or aphrodisiac properties. One description of chocolate I particularly enjoyed was written by James Wadsworth in 18th century England in A History of the Nature and Quality of Chocolate: “Twill make Old women Young and Fresh; Create New Motions of the Flesh, And cause them to long for you know what, If they but taste of chocolate.”

The mandrake was dubbed an aphrodisiac because it looks like the male genitalia or an entwined pair of lovers. It’s been believed to increase desire and fertility at least ever since it was mentioned in the Bible. The Biblical text describes Leah using a mandrake to seduce Jacob to sleep with her.

Mandrake lovers

Louis XV’s mistress Madame de Pompadour lived for some time on a diet of vanilla, truffles, and celery. When her maid accused her of having an unhealthy diet, de Pompadour said, “The fact is, my dearest, that I’m terrified of not pleasing the King any more, and of losing him. You know, men attach a great deal of importance to certain things and I, unfortunately for me, am very cold by nature. I thought I might warm myself up, if I went on a diet to heat the blood, and then I’m taking this elixir which does seem to be doing me some good.”

In the 1970s, the Peruvian government banned chilies from their prisons after a persistently large amount of prison rapes. They said that chilies were, “not appropriate for men forced to live a limited lifestyle.”

Testicles, Eggs, Blood, and Female Secretions
It shouldn’t come as a surprise that testicles and eggs have been believed to bring fertility to anyone who consumes them. Modern Chinese sex tonics incorporate dried penises and testicles of deer, tigers, seals, and beavers. They even catch spotted geckos while they mate (which is for a full day) and then eat them dried and soaked in wine.
We’re going further and further from what is considered normal food; that is, food that is consumed for caloric intake. People from all times and places have drunk the blood of “everything from bulls to blonds in the hope that it would increase strength, potency, and libido.” Menstrual blood was particularly potent. The 16th century Ming Dynasty Emperor Shih Tsung allegedly had 460 young virgins who supplied him with menstrual blood which he drank to increase his longevity and libido. According to Hospodar, in China, “Women were credited with harboring larger amounts of ch’i and greater sexual capacities than men. They believed that in order to be healthy and live long, men, who are primarily yang, needed to drink women’s yin essence, including her sexual secretions, saliva, and any perspiration that appeared between her breasts during lovemaking. Chinese sex manuals were often concerned with giving a woman full satisfaction so that her body fluids would flow copiously.”

Should you serve up some menstrual blood to turn up your partner's sex drive? The ancient Chinese thought so.

Modern day Brazil takes the bodily fluids in a different direction. Some women believe that they can ensnare their future husband by giving him a cup of coffee made by straining the grounds through her used underwear. Some African American voudou practices also involve making coffee using women’s urine, sweat, or vaginal secretions to ensnare men.

be fruitful and multiply: the importance of learning about food and sex

I know it may sound trivial, occasionally, for me to be writing a blog explaining the connection between food and sex, while others are conquering much more complex and controversial issues as the connection between food and race, gender, place, and health. But the more I deal with it, the more I think that it is very important to study this connection. What else is more visceral to our existence than food and sex? We, as individuals, have to eat to survive and we, as a species, have to have sex to survive. Sure, we don’t think about sex in a survivalist manner much anymore, but that’s probably because our species is doing so well and we have such long lives to procreate. In the 16th Century, the average lifespan of Europeans was only 25-30 years. That’s not much time to get busy and have 6 children, of which over 4 might die before they are able to reproduce. So increasing sexual desires was for more than just pure pleasure. Food has been used to increase desire and fertility for centuries in vastly different cultures, but it wasn’t necessarily to promote sex as pleasure, but rather to encourage procreation. For this reason, food as an aphrodisiac, has had great influence all sectors of human existence, from affecting sense of place to religion to etymology to social relationships.

I wanted to return to the idea of the aphrodisiac, for one because I found this awesome (scholarly!) article about aphrodisiacs, but also because I believe the topic has a much deeper history and social meaning than I ever imagined.
The article is called “Aphrodisiac Foods: Bringing Heaven to Earth” by Miriam Hospodar and was published in Fall 2004 in the Journal of Food and Culture (http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1525/gfc.2004.4.4.82).

Before I get into aphrodisiacs, though, I wanted to talk about the connection between fertility and crops throughout history. People used to believe that the extent of their own fruitfulness influenced that of their crops. For this reason, many different cultures encouraged the practice of appointing couples to have sex in the fields before and during planting. In fact, in some belief systems, an entire kingdom’s fertility was believed to rely upon the fertility of its king. Different sexual ceremonies were performed in different cultures to make crops grow. In ancient Sumeria, the king and a fertility goddess performed a ritual marriage. In ancient Egypt, pharaohs tried to conceive their first sons during the harvest festival of Min, “god of cultivation and generative power.”

Min, the Ancient Egyptian god of fertility, reproduction, and lettuce

The connection between sex and food goes as far as to be imbedded in language across the world. Languages on several different continents have words that mean both “to copulate” and “to eat.” Vanilla was named “vaina” or “vainillo” by the Spanish from the word “vagina.”

Vanilla Beans

I will soon discuss sweet foods and their historical regard as aphrodisiacs, but I will first point out that we connect sweetness to love and sex through language. We have sweethearts, sweeties, honeys, and sugar daddies. Also, we go on honeymoons, the time when our sex lives are romanticized to be at their best. Aphrodisiac was even derived from Aphrodite, name of the Greek goddess of love and sexuality. She was linked to food from the start. She was described by an Orphic Ode as the goddess of “the feasts which last for nights.” Since Aphrodite was born from the sea, seafood was regarded as aphrodisiacs by the Greeks.

Aphrodite - note that she's in the sea

I really liked Hospodar’s point about how ideas that once used to be so intertwined, have been segregated by modern society to give us, perhaps, a less wholesome existence: “Mainstream religion, medicine, food, and attitudes toward sexuality, which formerly were intertwined, have largely become estranged bedfellows. Gone from popular culture are sacred aphrodisiac foods bestowed by the divinities to grant mortals a sweet taste of heaven. Advertising taps into our most powerful desires, attempting to manipulate our yearnings to be sexually attractive, lovable, happy, powerful, and long-lived—the underlying desires motivating the search for aphrodisiacs in millennia long past.”
Thus, products attempt to quench our individual desires one at a time, with a real goal of simply making money instead of actually pleasing people. Aphrodisiacs, however, were thought to alleviate many of these desires at once. Perhaps if we still believed in the power of bread, sweets, seafood, nuts, and spices, we would feel more fulfilled. There would be more magic in our lives.

Will this couple's copulation enhance the fertility of their field?

cabbages… and condoms?

As you leave the restaurant...

Believe it or not, Cabbages and Condoms is the name of a chain of thirteen not-for-profit restaurants, twelve in Thailand and one in Japan. The restaurants have innovatively combined food and (talking about) sex to raise awareness about HIV and family planning. All profits from the restaurants go to the Population and Community Development Association (PDA) in Thailand.

A giant condom made out of condoms

I actually discovered the restaurants in the Journal of Food and Culture. An article called “The Contraceptive Café” by Dawn Starin (Spring 2009) featured the most popular Cabbages and Condoms restaurant in Bangkok, Thailand.

The idea for the restaurant came from Mechai Viravaidya, chairman of PDA. His nickname is “Condom King” and has received the Gates Award for Global Health and the Skoll Award for Social Entrepreneurship. His view is that in order to get people to use save sexual practices, they have to be able to talk about sex, and one of the best ways to do that is to make sex humorous. In addition to the restaurant, he’s thrown condom-blowing competitions in Thailand’s schools and streets and vasectomy festivals. According to Starin,“He is often said to be personally responsible for lowering the country’s rate of HIV infection.” According to the PDA’s website, since its founding in 1974, the PDA has decreased Thailand’s annual population growth rate from 3.3% in the mid-1970s to 0.6% in 2005. In other words, the average number of children per family fell from seven to two.

One of the posters

If only there were more people with such chic and creative ideas for teaching about such difficult subjects as HIV and family planning. I wonder if Americans would go for such a ‘racy’ restaurant in the US. I’m sure there would be huge religious movements to outlaw such a restaurant if it ever formed here. Not only does the restaurant raise money for the Population and Community Development Association, it also makes talking about condoms fun and exciting, while being educational. The restaurant is adorned with artwork made from condoms and birth control pills, sexual education posters line the room, and there are even dishes named for condoms. Moreover, the majority of the people who work in the restaurants have HIV. The restaurants have become safe-havens for people who are otherwise ostracized.

A waiter at Cabbages and Condoms. By making condoms funny, they become more familiar objects that people are not as afraid to talk about and use.

According to Thongleum Damviengkum, the creator of the innovative condom artwork, “This is a sanctuary, a haven. There are people working here who have aids. Everyone knows it, and it creates no problems. Outside, however, there is much prejudice and stigma. Maybe my work will help get rid of the stigma. Maybe my work will make people think seriously about using condoms. Maybe my work will let people laugh. I think Mr. Mechai is right. It is best to use good food and nice surroundings and laughter and fun and daring games to get important messages across. And this is one of the most important messages to spread around the world.” Thong practices what he preaches. He said that his five-year-old daughter sometimes helps him create his artwork and, “Yes, she knows about sex, aids condoms.” The condom artwork also serves as a good reminder as to why you should never reuse a condom. None of the artwork lasts long – It deteriorates from Thailand’s intense heat and humidity.

Condom santa

The superheros: Condom man and woman!

Flowers made out of condoms

I want to take a moment to talk about the food in the restaurant. According to multiple sources I looked into, the food is delicious. It’s Thai, but often with an innovatively fresh and artistic twist. The food is also often described as somewhat erotic. For example, Starin described the restaurant’s “Khao Niew Ma Muang” dessert (a dish made with mangoes, coconut milk, sugar, and sticky rice) as “both exotically and somehow erotically charged, the perfect ending to any meal.” A salad called “Yam, Cabbages, and Condoms” is a spicy concoction of hot and sour that is sure to tantalize any tongue.

Steamed shrimp with peanuts in tomato sauce served in a coconut. I don't think it's by mistake that the dish looks like a woman's breast.

Another breast-like dish: Fried rice with pineapple

Another beautiful dish... erotically charged?