Humans have been on the hunt for sexual enhancement since the beginning of time, when there was no distinction between libido and performance.
Enter: aphrodisiacs, edible substances which were meant to inspire and boost desire and lust and, in turn, execution.
There is no clear historical path to the phenomena of aphrodisiacs; during the Middle Ages, people believed that, due to their suggestive shapes, foods like asparagus, oysters and figs had magical properties. The ancient Romans thought that beets encouraged passionate feelings. Many cultures did (and still do) think that eating the genitalia of powerful animals like tigers and bulls will transfer sexual prowess. And across Asia, cobra blood and venom are mixed with alcohol and consumed in the belief that the drink will enhance libido.
While there is no actual scientific evidence to support any of these substances (and in fact some can be quite toxic, as is the case with ingesting the beetle otherwise known as Spanish Fly), food and the act of eating can put you in the mood for love. But not in the way you might think.
It’s more psychology than physiology. The brain is the largest sexual organ in the body and the placebo effect can be quite powerful when we’re looking for love. After all, we all want to have good sex.
So instead of spending this Valentine’s Day scanning the internet in search of less desirable potions claiming to bring out your inner beast, we recommend spending a romantic evening preparing and eating a delicious meal filled with sensual foods guaranteed to bring you closer to your heart’s desire (and put you in the mood). We’ve even provided the recipes, complete with their purported aphrodisiac qualities, plus some alternate options if you don’t feel like being in the kitchen.
Start your romantic evening with a bit of the bubbly.
Since the late 18th century, Champagne has been used to mark celebrations in the royal courts of Europe, so it’s a fitting beverage to begin your festive meal. A small amount of alcohol may help both men and women lower their inhibitions and get in the mood for romance, so moderation is key. Heavy drinking can actually reduce arousal as well as sexual function.
To be called Champagne, sparkling white wine must be produced from grapes grown in the Champagne region of France and follow very strict fermentation and bottling rules known as méthode Champenoise. A good bottle will set you back $40-$300, but there are plenty of great alternatives, including espumante from Portugal or Argentina, cava from Spain, crémant from regions in France outside of Champagne and prosecco from Italy.
Cocktail maven Molly Wellmann (whose Wellmann’s Brands owns and operates Japp’s Since 1879, Myrtle’s Punch House and other local drinking establishments) prefers prosecco for “The Garden of Eden,” a drink that contains both jelly made with and seeds from pomegranates, which some say was the forbidden fruit of The Bible. With their many seeds, pomegranates are often associated with fertility. Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love, is credited with planting the first pomegranate tree.
The Garden of Eden
- 2 tsp. Pomegranate-Pinot Noir Jelly from Made by Mavis
- 2 oz. vodka (Wellmann likes Northside Distillery vodka)
- ½ oz. pineapple balsamic from We Olive & Wine Bar
- Dry prosecco
- Pomegranate seeds to serve
Instructions: Combine the first 3 ingredients and shake with ice. Strain into coupe-style Champagne glass and top with dry prosecco and pomegranate seeds.
Pro Tip: Nothing kills romance faster than a trip to the emergency room. Keep in mind that a cork from a bottle of bubbly can erupt at speeds of up to 60 miles per hour. When opening a bottle of champagne or other pressurized sparkling wine, remove the wire cage and drape a kitchen towel over the top of the bottle. Aim the cork away from yourself and gently twist until the cork eases out.
Where to Buy: Made by Mavis, made-by-mavis.myshopify.com; We Olive & Wine Bar, 33 E. Sixth St., Downtown, weolive.com/cincinnati*.
If You Don’t Want To Make Your Own: Visit one of Wellmann’s establishments for a sparkling cocktail or the romantic Art Déco Bar at Palm Court (35 W. Fifth St., Downtown) for The NP cocktail — Four Roses yellow label bourbon, lemon, ginger, bitters and sparkling wine.
“Eating a raw oyster is like French kissing a mermaid” — Tom Robbins
In his biography The Story of My Life, notorious 18th-century Latin lover Giacomo Casanova claimed that he seduced a virgin by sliding an oyster from his lips to hers and, in his never-ending pursuit of pleasure, that he consumed 50 of the mollusks every day for breakfast, declaring them to be the key to his endless libido.
While there is no proof that oysters actually contribute to sexual prowess, they do contain a nice dose of zinc, which is key to a healthy male sperm count.
Fresh, raw oysters make a delightful appetizer for your romantic dinner for two. The briny bivalves should be served on the half-shell, super cold, alongside typical condiments like lemon wedges, freshly grated horseradish, Tabasco (or your favorite brand of hot sauce) and a classic mignonette.
Whole Foods carries East Coast Blue Point oysters on a daily basis at $1 per piece, and for Valentine’s Day, they will bring in five to six other varieties, including Choptank, Penn Cove, Olde Salt and Salty Hog, which run between $1-$2. There’s no charge for shucking, but advance notice of 24 hours is appreciated. Fresh oysters — a living creature — will keep shelled and on ice in the refrigerator for up to two weeks.
- ½ cup Champagne vinegar
- 2 tbs. finely minced shallot
- 1 tbs. freshly ground black pepper
- ½ tsp. finely ground sea salt
Instructions: Stir together vinegar, shallot, pepper and salt. Let stand 30 minutes. Serve with fresh oysters. Makes ½ cup. Keeps 1 week in refrigerator.
Pro Tip: Save yourself some disappointment and a lot of hard work. The freshness of oysters is difficult to gauge until you open them, according to Justin Mantia, team member of meat and seafood at Whole Foods, so purchase your oysters from a reputable seafood source and let them do the shucking. Mantia recommends four to six oysters per person as an appetizer.
Where to Buy: Whole Foods, 2693 Edmondson Road, Hyde Park, wholefoodsmarket.com.
If You Don’t Want To Make Your Own: Head out to eat oysters at The Anchor OTR (1401 Race St., OTR, theanchor-otr.com) where chef/owner Derek dos Anjos and his crew shucked over 90,000 last year alone. Every Thursday night is $1 oyster night, so there’s no need to limit your lust to just one day a year.
Make It Hot!
From the moment a chili pepper touches your lips, plumping them with desirability, you become aware of the unique chemical response your body has when it comes in contact with capsaicin, the active compound that gives chilies their powerful punch. Capsaicin also gets your heart pumping, stimulates nerve endings and increases blood flow all over your body, which may actually slightly increase your sex drive.
Colonel De Gourmet Herbs & Spices’ New Mexico chili- and paprika-infused “The Ole’ Bourbon Trail” spice rub is the perfect tongue-tingling blend for a chili-crusted flank steak with mango salsa. Lean cuts of protein-rich red meat boost dopamine — the reward hormone — and mangos are synonymous with male sexuality across Southeast Asia and India. The salsa also contains honey, which Greek physician Hippocrates prescribed for sexual vigor.
Chili-Crusted Flank Steak with Mango Salsa
For the Steak:
- 3 tbs. Ole’ Bourbon Trail spice rub from Colonel De Gourmet Herbs & Spices
- 1 ½ -2 lb. flank steak
For the Salsa:
- About 2 cups ½-inch diced mango (about 4 to 5 mangoes)
- ¼ cup finely chopped shallot
- Finely grated zest and juice of 1 lime
- 2 tbs. white wine or Champagne vinegar
- 4 tbs. honey
- 2 tbs. finely chopped fresh cilantro, optional
- Fine Kosher salt to season
Prepare the Steak: Rub both sides of the steak with Ole’ Bourbon Trail, making sure to evenly distribute the spice. Cover the steak and refrigerate for at least two hours and up to 12 hours.
Make the Salsa: Combine the mango, shallot, zest and juice of the lime, vinegar, honey, cilantro and salt; mix well. Taste and adjust the seasoning and/or honey as needed. Cover and refrigerate for at least two hours (and up to 12 hours) until ready to serve.
Instructions: Prepare a charcoal fire or preheat a gas grill on high. Alternatively, you can prepare the steak indoors in your oven’s broiler. When broiling, position the pan four to five inches from the heating element. Grill or broil for four to six minutes per side for medium-rare. Transfer the steak to a platter and allow it to rest, uncovered, for 10 minutes before cutting against the grain into thin slices. Serve with mango salsa.
Pro Tip: Stoke the spice with a side salad comprised of peppery arugula and avocado. The ancient Romans consecrated arugula to Priapus, a god of fertility, and the ancient Aztecs believed so strongly in the aphrodisiac power of avocados (called “ahuacatl,” also the word for testicle) that virgins were not allowed to leave their houses when the fruit was being harvested.
Where to Buy: Colonel De Gourmet Herbs & Spices, 1801 Race St., Findlay Market, Over-the-Rhine, colonelde.com; Eckerlin Meats, 116 W. Elder St., Findlay Market, Over-the-Rhine, eckerlinmeats.com.
If You Don’t Want To Make Your Own: While not quite the same as a skirt steak dinner, Nada (600 Walnut St., Downtown, eatdrinknada.com) offers tacos for both meat eaters and vegetarians. Get the chili-marinated al pastor taco with pickled pineapple and an order of fried avocado tacos for your chili, tropical fruit and dose of superfood. There’s also an ancho-chili-glazed pork shank for the table, served with papaya-guajillo salad and avocado.
A Happy, Chocolate Ending
It’s no coincidence that the Latin word for cacao is “theobroma,” which means “food of the gods.” Cacao contains the serotonin-boosting chemical tryptophan and phenylethylamine, a stimulant and mood elevator that is naturally released by the human brain when it’s falling in love. Chocolate also contains L-arginine, an amino acid that increases nitric acid to help promote blood flow to your sex organs, which in turn increases desire and sensation. So it makes perfect sense that a chocolate dessert should be your go-to for special occasions.
Serve this silky smooth and rich chocolate fondue with fresh strawberries. In ancient Rome, the delicate, heart-shaped berry was a symbol for Venus, the goddess of love. If you don’t have a fondue pot, a small Crock Pot works well.
- 2 cups heavy cream
- 1 lb. dark chocolate, at least 65-percent cacao, finely chopped
- 1 tbs. pure vanilla extract
Instructions: Put approximately 4 inches of water in a heavy saucepan over medium-high heat and bring to a slow boil. Place a mixing bowl on top and pour in the heavy cream; heat to simmer. Do not boil. Add chocolate and whisk until smooth. Whisk in vanilla and pour into fondue pot or Crock Pot to keep warm. Serve with fresh fruit as desired.
Pro Tip: To get the antioxidant health benefits chocolate provides, choose dark chocolate over milk chocolate. Milk chocolate contains much less of the original cocoa bean than it’s darker sibling. Look for dark chocolate varieties that contain at least 65 percent cacao.
Where to Buy: Maverick Chocolate Co., 129 W. Elder St., Findlay Market, Over-the-Rhine, maverickchocolate.com.
If You Don’t Want To Make Your Own: There’s always fondue restaurant The Melting Pot (11023 Montgomery Road, Montgomery, meltingpot.com), which serves several different types of chocolate fondue.
Tea for Two
After dinner, push the dishes aside, light some scented candles and prepare a pot of fragrant herbal tea. Snuggle up and let the relaxing and soothing effects of a warmly brewed beverage lead you to more pleasurable pursuits.
For thousands of years, ginseng root has been used in Chinese medicine to enhance sexual behavior as well as to treat sexual dysfunction.
Kathleen Kern of Churchill’s Fine Teas at Findlay Market offers customers ginseng in the form of Ginseng Oolong and in the herbal Wellness Blends “All About Adam” (oriented toward men), “All About Eve” (oriented toward women) and “All About Mature Eve” (oriented toward mature women). Kern also suggests blending teas with rose petals when buying tea for that special someone as a mood enhancer.
Where to Buy: Churchill’s Fine Teas, 122 W. Elder St., Findlay Market, churchillsteas.com.
If You Don’t Want To Make Your Own: We’re pretty sure you can make your own, but Churchill’s also serves prepared tea.
*CityBeat would like to acknowledge that Ilene Ross has done PR for We Olive & Wine Bar, but Molly Wellmann selected the pineapple balsamic for the cocktail herself.