Mighty Aphrodisiac: Treat your Valentine to delicacies that satisfy the hunger for food and stimulat

On Valentine’s Day, our attentions turn to love. And since our need for food and love has been entwined since recorded history, Feb. 14 is also a good time for food lovers to reexamine the age-old subject of aphrodisiacs.

Aphrodisiac history may well begin with the origin of the name, which comes from Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love. Its definition: a substance that increases sexual sensitivity or appetite. The key word here is appetite, and to satisfy any appetite we turn to food.

For starters, consider honey. Called nature’s most perfect food, honey has been the basic ingredient to countless love potions. Thousands of years ago in the Middle East, camel’s milk was sweetened with honey. In Rome, mead, a honey wine was drunk on the wedding night – thus the honeymoon. Make your home honey happy and drizzle wild flower honey over roasted or wood-smoked and grilled meats such as pork or chicken, then sprinkle with toasted almonds for an orgasmic flavor combination.

Since Aphrodite rose from the sea on a scallop shell, most shellfish are said to enhance the libido. Case in point, the oyster. A favorite of Casanova, the oyster is an excellent source of zinc and protein. Coincidentally, zinc happens to be a key mineral necessary to maintain male potency. The languid, slippery sensation of raw, salty oyster flesh being sucked off the shell is a sensuous prelude to post-Valentine’s Day dinner festivities.

Besides oysters, pine nuts are another excellent source of zinc. These tiny, buttery little nutmeats taken from the center of pinecones were used since medieval times to boost a gentleman’s expectations. Create the ultimate in culinary rendezvous and pair a tick sexy beef filet with oyster. Cut a pocket into the center of an 8-ounce beef fillet and stuff with a few oysters. Fasten with a wooden pick and grill fillets seasoned with garlic and red pepper to bring a little extra fire to your red-hot lover. Or make a seduction salad and top a Caesar with a couple of batter-fried oysters.

For the more erotic, strawberries and raspberries – described as fruit nipples – are a must have on any lover’s plate. Berries are high in vitamin C and used as a homeopathic treatment for impotence. Decorate a creamy smooth cheesecake with whole strawberries and romance your love with berries tossed in a glass of sparkling wine.

Herbs and spices promise to add zest to any amorous encounter. Red pepper and chiles are thought to fan the flames of desire, as are cinnamon, ginger and clove. Nutmeg contains a chemical called myristicin, which was used in U.S. military tests to induce ‘”good feelings” in enemy soldiers during combat. Spawned by its wartime testing in the 1960’s, nutmeg found popularity underground as a love drug. Add a dash to simulate both body and soul when you pour that next cup of mocha java.

Love potions and herbs go hand in hand. For me, Italian red sauces define culinary love potions. They’re sexy, rich and infused with herbs, especially basil that titillates the tongue. Basil is the classic herb associated with the quickening of romantic love. Used to keep the wandering eyes of husbands focused at home, wives would powder themselves with pulverized basil. The smell can drive one wild with anticipation. Garlic’s reputation as an herb good for one’s heart also is said to stir the heat within us and fire sexual prowess.

Rosemary, the herb of remembrance, has an intoxicating aroma. According to Cynthia Mervis Watson, author of “Love Potions: A Guide to Aphrodisiacs and Sexual Pleasures,” rosemary plays on our scent memory – our strongest tie to emotional experiences. Therefore, if the scent of rosemary is present during an amorous event the smell of the herb will act as a Pavlovian “call to love” in the future.

Phallic saffron and vanilla are both exotic and expensive. Saffron is the dried stamen of a special autumn crocus whose color is golden and warm. Vanilla is the bean of a tropical orchid. Vanilla’s scent and flavor was believed to increase lust, and its reputation as an aroma and food aphrodisiac created a demand for the thin, long beans. With such a demand, French perfume makers tried to reserve vanilla for themselves by spreading false rumors that vanilla was harmful if eaten in hopes of discouraging its use by pastry chefs. It didn’t work.

Anyone who loves vanilla really loves vanilla. To entreat your love’s favors, treat him or her with vanilla flavor. A drizzle of vanilla in a simple white sauce flavored with rosemary makes an excellent sauce for chicken or white fish. For dessert, slice up vanilla pastry-cream fruit tart and serve it in the glow of vanilla-scented candles.

Flowers are one of the most underrated aphrodisiacs on the food chain but, in fact, are one of nature’s best. Brightly colored and scented flowers attract pollinators. One such erotic, edible flower is a nasturtium, a trendy garnish of the last few years. For those not interested in such roughage, use as decoration on the table or any place else you choose to eat.

Let’s not forget chocolate. Just say the word and people smile and coo. Chocolate’s rich, creamy texture and sweet taste make it the ultimate aphrodisiac. Since its discovery, chocolate has been considered an indulgence and a food of the gods. The Aztecs reserved it for royalty and served it as a drink laced with cinnamon.

But why do we find chocolate so sexy? Some say it’s chemical. Chocolate contains theobromine, a chemical that is related to caffeine and is thought to simulate the brain’s neurotransmitters. One fact is for sure, chocolate contains more antioxidants than red wine. So offer your love chocolate, perhaps some of the X-rated kinds available at Crown Candy Company, with a glass of port. Better yet, pick up a jar of edible chocolate paint for painting a special Valentine wish on your sweetie. Chocolate paint is harder to find but can be located online.

A chocolate twist that modern aphrodisiac old hippies will recommend are M&Ms. Not just any M&Ms but green ones. Green M&Ms have been a phenomenon tracked in coffeehouses to sorority houses across the country. When students were asked why green, the reply was simply that the candy was erotic and therefore reserved for “special times.”

Martha Hopkins, author of “InterCourses: An Aphrodisiac Cookbook,” stated that many of the traditional foods of love are healthy, high in vitamins and low in fat, making for a healthy body. And when a body is healthy and fit, the quality of life increases – and that includes the sexual experience.

While the above nutritional data and observations are valid, the question still looms: Do aphrodisiacs work? According to Dr. William Hart, associate professor of nutrition and dietetics at Saint Louis University, the answer is no.

“Research shows there is no such thing as an aphrodisiac food,” said Hart. “Oysters, strawberries or chocolate are no more magical than spinach. None of it works unless you think it’s going to work, in which case anything works.”

Although research can’t confirm any food as an aphrodisiac, its folklore still makes for titillating reading and an excellent resource for building a lovers’ menu. After all, nothing is more stimulating than the simple act of eating. Experiencing the complexities of food textures, smells and tastes makes for gratification like no other. The only way to improve on such a sensation is to share your dinner with the one you love.