If the way to the heart is through the stomach, then there’s no better way to bypass the back roads and hit the freeway than with an aphrodisiac. The word “aphrodisiac” means “pertaining to Aphrodite;” according to legend, this Greek goddess had no problem in the igniting the flames of love (and war, for that matter). Said to increase sexual desire, these substances have had a reputation for being the culinary equivalent of Barry White for hundreds — if not thousands — of years.
The power of many supposed aphrodisiacs relies upon a medieval philosophy known as the “Doctrine of Signatures:” God designed things to mimic their purpose. If a plant or herb helped the liver, then it looked like a liver. If it’s meant to help your libido, well ... you get the picture. Other foods gained their professed power from life-giving symbolism. From foods resembling body parts to ingredients that trace their purported power to folklore, aphrodisiacs range from animal to vegetable, from the readily available to the more unusual.
If you’re looking to set the mood for Friday’s big night, there are two routes you can take: stay home or go out. We have your road map to romance — aphrodisiac style — for this Valentine’s Day.
A night out
These little mollusks have enjoyed a reputation for randiness for centuries. There are several reasons that oysters are perhaps the most well known aphrodisiac: Aphrodite first appeared in an oyster shell; they also are said to resemble a female body part. However, there is some scientific data to back up the appeal. Not only do oysters contain a large amount of zinc, which helps men refuel, but they also contain amino acids that trigger increased level of sex hormones.
Get your Casanova on (the legendary lover reputedly ate a dozen oysters for breakfast every day) at Hooked in Beaver Creek. Order them on the half shell, in a shooter or fried. Hooked also offers happy hour specials on oysters on the half shell.
Since the days of the ancient Greeks and Romans, truffles have been considered royalty in the world of aphrodisiacs. Some scientists accredit the popularity to the high level of protein and amino acids found in this fungus. Other folks describe its earthy, exotic appeal and still others claim that truffles share the same musky scent as male pheromones. Even Napoleon got in on the action, eating truffles to increase his potency (though not his height).
Chef Jean-Michel Chelain, owner and chef at The Left Bank in Vail Village, orders truffles fresh from Europe each week. Though the process of clearing U.S. Customs can be difficult for these tasty treats, it’s more than worth it. Order up some savory luxury and let your nose be your guide.
Though this vegetable resembles a pinecone more than anatomy, it has been considered an aphrodisiac for hundreds of years. According to mythology, the first artichoke was one of Zeus’s discarded lovers; he transformed her into this member of the thistle family when she snuck back to earth instead of remaining in Olympus. Though that relationship didn’t end happily, artichokes are credited with making women more desirable and men more lasting in their loving.
There’s no more appropriate place to chomp on some ‘chokes than at Ti Amo in Eagle Vail. Not only does the restaurant promise love in its name, but they also serve an amazing Carciofo alla Griglia: grilled artichoke with roasted garlic remoulade; the garlic is an added bonus.
If eggs are the symbol of life and fertility, then caviar is perhaps the most concentrated form of “little life” that you’ll find. Add to that its extravagant price, sensual sensation and the ceremony with which it’s eaten and caviar ranks high on the love-producing scale. On the science side, caviar is full of protein (crucial for energy), zinc (like in oysters) and an amino acid that increases blood flow (self-explanatory).
To get a taste of the “drug” of choice for notables like Dostoyevsky, Kissinger and even Rasputin, Mirabelle at the base of Beaver Creek offers imported Ossetra caviar with blinis and the traditional accoutrements. Larkspur in Vail does it up in similar fashion, presenting a whole jar of Petrossian caviar with the usual accompaniments served atop crushed ice, with house-made potato galettes on the side.
Though snails are not the most inherently sexy creatures, they’re considered an aphrodisiac according to the “doctrine of signatures” as well as the luxury and indulgence with which they’re associated. Chock full of zinc (there’s a pattern emerging here) and packed with protein, escargot can fuel your romantic fire throughout the evening.
No one loves escargot like the French. Visit La Tour restaurant in Vail on Wednesdays to learn le langue d’amour during happy hour and return for wild burgundy escargots in the evening to whet your romantic appetite.
A night in
Is it the exotic nature of chili peppers? The romantic red color? The tingly heat that they add to dishes? Or is it the endorphins that chilies release, speeding up your heart, making you sweat and causing that oh-so-exciting rush, just like love? Whatever the reason, add some chilies to your menu to spice up the evening — both literally and figuratively speaking.
It’s silky, it’s sensual and it’s sinfully addicting. The Aztec emperor Montezuma purportedly ate copious amounts of cocoa beans to fuel his sexual exploits and, while it’s always better to make love then war, there’s no real science behind chocolate’s claim to romantic fame. However, chocolate does release a spike of stimulant similar to dopamine, which causes feelings of pleasure.
Falling into several aphrodisiac reasoning categories, strawberries can be considered “symbols of fertility” with its many tiny seeds as well as the anatomically suggestive category. Known as a symbol of Venus (Aphrodite’s Roman alter ego) in ancient Rome, strawberries are a sweet, sensual fruit that’s perfect for sharing. Especially when they’re dipped in chocolate.
Garlic and onions
Garlic was purported to increase sexual stamina by the ancient Greeks; both Hindu and Arabic texts mention onions in relation to lovemaking. Then there’s the bulbous shape of both items, which is enough to propel it into the sexy veggie category. True, these two ingredients may not be the best bet for fresh breath, but if you’re both enjoying these pungent treats, neither of you will notice any oral odor.
While there’s no hard proof that these substances really increase sexual desire, there’s certainly no harm in sampling some of these sweet and savory treats with your significant other. And, if all else fails, remember this much-tested aphorism: “candy is dandy but liquor is quicker.”