Since the dawn of time, people have believed in aphrodisiacs: foods, drinks or other things that stimulate desire. In ancient Japanese bordellos, courtesans made an aphrodisiac oil from eels, lotus roots and charred lizard to stimulate their clients. Montezuma, the Ancient Aztec ruler, was said to guzzle 50 cups of chocolate in advance of visits to his harem. It took just one oyster for Casanova to seduce a virgin. Or so the legends go.
You could argue either side of the debate – that certain foods can spur libido – but what we do know for sure is that foods have found themselves attached to seduction, regardless of what science says.
In medieval Europe, simple herbs and spices such as mint, basil, cinnamon, pepper, ginger, cardamom and saffron were banned at various times. Rulers believed that nefarious actors were using these ingredients to make love potions, which would then be slipped into the food or drinks of unsuspecting targets. The concoctions then causing them to miraculously fall for the first man or women that crossed their path. A toad could have a princess.
With Valentine’s Day coming on, we thought we’d be on the more romantic side of the debate and put our faith in the power of food to bring people together and create shared sensory experiences. Yes, we are counting on nuts, sea urchins, truffles, fennel, figs and dozens of other foods to grease the wheels of love – giving hope to all the toads and toadettes.
One dish that can be made from locally available ingredients loaded with rumoured aphrodisiacs: tuna and avocado tartare. Pack it with lemon juice, wasabi, chives, and top it off with some caviar – just for good measure – and wait for your Valentine to go weak at the knees. If that’s all a bit complicated, we have a simpler dish that has for centuries been said to hold the key to love, but it’s not for the feint hearted. Do you dare to mix pungent fruits with passion? The world’s stinkiest (and most unlikely) aphrodisiac can be found in abundance here in Cambodia: the Durian.