At home, every Christmas Day meal begins with a big plate of oysters, which is a traditional food for many French families at Christmas. Ever since I’ve learned that oysters are considered an aphrodisiac, I have been questioning our oyster tradition. There is probably no relationship, but sometimes I can’t help but wonder. After all, the same feast will likely abound in chocolate, garlic, truffles, etc… which are considered aphrodisiacs as well! I’m sure you’ve heard (although probably not as much as I have) the jokes and references alluding to the French’s innate disposition to embrace sexuality (and food too – especially if the food is an aphrodisiac).

I’m not trying to reinforce the overgeneralized hedonistic portrait the world has painted of the French. I’m simply pointing to the relationship between food and sex, a pairing that goes way back to ancient times. Aphrodisiacs are substances (not always edible) which are used in the belief that they increase sexual desire. As you may have guessed already, the name comes from Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of sensuality. Here is a list of some common aphrodisiacs:

  • Aniseed
  • Almond
  • Asafetida
  • Avocado
  • Broccoli rabe
  • Carrots
  • Coriander
  • Oysters
  • Pine nuts
  • Pineapple
  • Nutmeg
  • Raspberries and strawberries
  • Truffles
  • Vanilla
  • Liquorice
  • Ginger
  • Figs
  • Asparagus
  • Arugula
  • Basil
  • Bananas
  • Chocolate
  • Coffee
  • Fennel

Some of the foods listed are believed to have ingredients that enhance sexual desire, while others are considered aphrodisiacs mostly because of their shape, which resemble male or female genitalia (oysters, bananas, asparagus…). If you’re like me, you may think “OK, that’s cool, but does scientific data exist to back up these claims?” The truth is little evidence exists that these foods have chemical agents that increase sexual desire or performance. The reputation of these erotic foods is based primarily on folklore as well as traditional and spiritual beliefs; the placebo effect probably has a lot to do with the lore persisting over time.

This should not deter anyone from savoring these foods. There are lots of fun recipes that use aphrodisiacs to create a sensual feast! There is no shame in getting carried away; it can certainly be lots of fun, albeit a little cheesy…

There it is – cheese – this symbol of French gastronomy is not even an aphrodisiac!

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