Adventures in Food for the Romantic, the Foolhardy and the Brave


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Gastronaut book

Aphrodisiacs

Good news. I have discovered which foods are best for achieving sexual congress with a partner of your choice. Bad news. None of these foods is an aphrodisiac.

Mankind is forever searching, and the more elusive the prize, the more obsessive the exploration. As the French novelist Gustave Flaubert said, ‘anticipation is the most reliable emotion’. The search is the thing, not the discovery. Consider the searches for the Holy Grail, Atlantis, alien life, the meaning of life, the uphill struggle of alchemy. All very noble in their ways, but imagine if one day, by chance, you stumbled across the answer to all of those searches, but just as you were about to pick up the phone to the Nobel Institute, you also invented the world’s first aphrodisiac – a magical elixir that would ensure you success in the sack with women/men/goats? I know what I’d do: forget about the Nobel prize, for starters, and instead call Downing Street and the White House to inform them that I would shortly be taking over the world

Of course, most foods have at some time been proclaimed as sexual stimulants, including the following:

Potatoes, eagles’ livers, lentils, menstrual blood, oysters, nail-parings, velvet from the horns of young stags, frogs’ bones, ginseng, mandrake, foie gras, sparrows’ tongues, orchids, pine nuts, mushrooms, truffles, asparagus, walnuts, almonds, pistachios, coffee, chocolate, chickpeas, beetroot, cabbage, pumpkin, marrows, carrots, spinach, radishes, broad beans, peppers, bamboo shoots, watercress, celery, artichokes , avocados, camel’s milk, prawns, caviar, anchovies, lobster, crabs , elvers, octopus, sea urchins, seaweed, garlic, goat, venison, hare, sparrows, liver, snails, honey, mint, thyme, parsley, fennel, chervil , sage, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, cloves, saffron, chilli, dates, pomegranate, apples, peaches, figs, pears, strawberries, grapes and, of course, partridge brains. By rights, if you made a meal out of all these ingredients, your pants ought to explode. But it’s all bollocks. Sorry everyone, but as yet there’s no such thing as an aphrodisiac. All the items on the previous page are listed by holistic nutritionists from Pliny the Elder to Dr Gillian McKeith, but none has convincing proof of their sexual potency. An American company called Erox has done some exciting work in human pheromones, producing two active compounds (ER-670 for women and ER-830 for men) that our pheromone receptors respond to. Erox’s claim is pretty modest, though – apparently the compounds make female subjects feel warmer and male subjects more confident and assured. Woo. No, no one has ever discovered a real aphrodisiac – a substance that reliably stimulates sexual desire where it isn’t strictly deserved – though there have been hundreds of snake-oil-style pretenders. Even David Berliner, a former professor of anatomy now working for Erox agrees. ‘Everybody is looking for an aphrodisiac,’ he says, ‘but I have said it a million times: such a thing doesn’t exist.’

There have been some crazy theories about food and sex, but just because they’re nonsense doesn’t mean they aren’t worth telling you about. Roman peasants believed that onions, leeks and fennel increased semen production, and that carrots, celery, mushrooms, nutmeg, cinnamon and lettuce all aided sexual excitement (which seems like an underhand way to get your husband to eat his greens). Vanilla was once championed simply due to the vaginal shape of its pod.

But what about Viagra? Well, Viagra isn’t an aphrodisiac – it’s an aid to penile erection that ensures the flow of blood to the penis is increased following sexual stimulation. In case you’re interested, Viagra is essentially a British invention, its development shrouded in the mists of press releases by Pfizer. What seems clear is that Viagra was developed around 1998 by a group of chaps in Kent, who were looking at chemicals used for treating heart problems. They invented a substance that increases blood flow to the penis when activated by nitric oxide – a chemical that enters the bloodstream in response to sexual stimulation. And what about Spanish fly, the stimulant that the Marquis de Sade was wont to slip into the bonbons he fed to prostitutes and friends? It’s the powdered remains of a beetle found in southern Europe that specifically irritates the urogenital tract, causing your genitals to burn, swell and itch (which I suppose you could mistake for arousal). It also encourages better blood flow, so, in combination, these symptoms could lead to powerful erections for both penis and clitoris. However, Spanish fly can also lead to damaged kidneys, nausea, pain and, in extreme cases, death. But that’s enough about what doesn’t work: how about what does? In the Gastronautical Survey I asked a lot of people the simple question: ‘Which meal, if any, is most likely to end in sexual congress?’

My lovely survey respondents confessed that the following float their boats:

Gastronautical survey result: Which meal, if any, is most likely to end in sexual congress?

1. Meal with lots of alcohol 11%
2. Take-away meal 7%
3. Chocolate 5%
4. Expensive meal 4.5%
5. Breakfast 4%
6. Oysters 3%
7. Fish (various) 2%
8. A light meal 1.5 %
9. Cooked by male partner 1%
10. None/no response/expression of outrage 18%

Other items that cropped up more than once included: lobster, sushi, crispy duck, champagne, strawberries, fruit, lunch, quick meals.
These statistics belie the fact that obscure and enigmatic answers were the norm, such as ‘urgent’, ‘Thursday night, lots of drink’, ‘legs’, ‘Lady wrapped in bacon’, ‘dinner’, ‘meals tend to start an argument’ and ‘I’d be lucky’. The answer ‘bottle of wine and a joint’ seemed pretty clear, though, as did my friend Ewan’s unrepeatable and, may I suggest, fanciful suggestion. There was loads of advice in fluffy conceptual terms, but it was irritatingly conflicting, and defied all attempts to establish a pattern. Here are some of the main ones:

·1 Make sure that alcohol is involved.
·2 Spend lots of money. Expensive meals or ingredients seem to be pretty reliable.
·3 Conversely, don’t spend lots of money. Get a take-away (although simply cooking with cheap ingredients was never mentioned). Indian food topped the list pretty clearly, and my friend Danny swears by chips and curry sauce. Thai food and pizza were also mentioned several times.
·4 Make the food light and the meal long.
·5 Various expensive seafood was popular.
·6 And whatever you do, don’t forget the alcohol.

It’s not really my place to offer any scientific diagnosis of these results but it does seem that there’s no quick-fix ingredient, which is a crushing shame. But I sniff a conspiracy. Imagine a world where an aphrodisiac does exist – let’s assume for these purposes that the banana is a potent aphrodisiac. What would people spend all their time doing? Eating bananas and making love. And when they finished making love, they’d make love some more. At that point they’d maybe eat some bananas and then, my guess is, they’d get back to the lovemaking. Call me old-fashioned, but I know I would. The whole point about a potent aphrodisiac is that it would be, to some extent, irresistible. And because sex is so great, someone would always pop round with a banana, and off you go again, dancing the merry dance of love.

This is all rather lovely, exciting and good for the heart, but powerful aphrodisiacs come with a built-in civilization-busting flaw: nothing would ever get done. No one would drive the trains, no one would build the houses and no one would write the food books, that’s for sure. The only people who would do a stroke of work would be the banana farmers, and then only so that they could eat more bananas and have more sex. I reckon that at some point someone has discovered or invented a real aphrodisiac, but they’ve either been assassinated or paid off by some shadowy Bilderbergian Christian Fundamentalist businessman or the US government – anyone who wanted to keep the masses in their uneroticized place and ensure that the wheels of industry keep turning. In many ways they’d be right to do so; with the world overrun by aphrodisiacs, the human race would be extinct within a few generations, slewn by banana poisoning and exhaustion. But what a way to go.

Ó Stefan Gates 2005