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 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.
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.
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.”
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.