Aphrodisiacs are, of course, named after the Greek goddess Aphrodite, whose Roman counterpart is Venus, which rhymes with penis, so it makes perfect sense, right? Well, it makes about as much sense as the reasoning behind nearly any food that's commonly considered an aphrodisiac. To be fair, though, Aphrodite's origin story (or at least one of them) does have her rising from the foamy splash created when another god's severed penis fell into the sea. In any case, sorry to be so male-centric, but the ancients simply did not have any gods named Dolores or Mulva (look it up, young'uns). Most of us humans are not lucky enough to possess Aphrodite's super-hotness, so it's not surprising that we've been looking for help getting into each others' pants since, like, the beginning of time.
It's impossible not to notice that many supposed aphrodisiacal foods tend to look like the things they're supposed to affect: Asparagus, celery, and peppers all kinda look like penises (fun fact: the word for pepper is a euphemism for penis in Korean); figs (when cut open at least), oysters, and mussels look like vaginas (raw oysters being uniquely egalitarian, given their gooey, snotty texture); and garlic looks like a scrotum, maybe? OK, so that last one might be a stretch. But it's really a thing, the belief that foods that happen to look like human genitalia stimulate said parts. So in many cases, it simply boils down to appearance.
Then there are foodstuffs such as saffron, caviar, and chocolate, which, at some point in history at least, were all very difficult to acquire and thus very expensive. This would be along the lines of a really expensive car or any overt, perhaps even gaudy, display of wealth-which, in addition to serving as a barometer of one's douchiness, could be interpreted as a high level of reproductive fitness via the ability to provide material care for offspring.
The two hallmarks of aphrodisiacs, then, appearance and rarity, obviously do not hold up to an eyeball test on their own; I mean, it's not like your digestive system gives a shit (sorry) about what shape something was before you chewed it into a slurry, or how much it cost. The only thing that ultimately matters are the chemicals that eventually make their way to your brain. So aphrodisiacs = complete bullshit, right? Well, not quite. There seems to be some overlap of folk-style notions and chemistry-and not the eHarmony flavor but the actual science-y type. See? It's not like I want to crap all over Valentine's Day, just trying to keep it real.
Anyway, if you search aphrodisiacs, most of the top results will be New Age-y, hippie-ish blogs that go on about foods that stimulate oxytocin production, which is a feel-good chemical that's associated with being in love and also that particular feeling of peace and calm one experiences after orgasming. Thing is, the mere act of eating releases oxytocin, since it is responsible for creating a sensory-specific satiety, which is pretty much the exact opposite of wanting to bang. And then there's the much-cited zinc content of oysters (and most other bivalves, for that matter), which, if anything, might help with a man's ability to recuperate after ejaculation, since zinc is important in sperm production; Giacomo Casanova is said to have eaten several dozen a day to fuel his infamous sexual exploits. But this is, again, sort of after the fact and would only apply to dudes anyway-as is also the case with watermelons, which contain a compound called citrulline. After consumption, this breaks down into a vasodilator, increasing blood flow by expanding blood vessels, which is what Viagra does. However, unlike Viagra, citrulline has a more generalized effect, and anyway, what good is a boner if you're not in the mood to do anything with it? Not that I've ever had that problem, just saying is all.
The only real deals I can find appear to be chocolate and saffron. Chocolate contains phenylethylamine, a class of chemicals known to stimulate human sexual arousal. The compound that makes saffron reddish-yellow is called crocin, and it too appears to be effective as a sexual stimulant. But even with these, there is a problem: dosage. In both cases, very large amounts are needed to produce an effect. But hey, you can never have too much chocolate, right? And saffron? Well, at the very least, now you can follow up your Valentine's Day dinner of paella and chocolate mousse with some valid reasoning and technical-sounding verbiage, and if that doesn't get you laid, you may not be shit-out-of-luck just yet.
While it isn't food, I would be remiss to neglect to mention booze since, for better or worse, it's probably the most widely used and (by volume) the most effective thing humans ingest for facilitating sex. As most of us know, and as with most things, too much is detrimental but reasonable amounts lower inhibitions. And while alcohol initially acts as a depressant, it becomes more of a psychostimulant as it's metabolized, which might explain those post-drinking no-holds-barred freak-a-thons that some of us are lucky enough to have fuzzy memories of. And also beer goggles. So maybe have a bottle of tequila around as a backup plan. Or, to really hedge your bets, combine them all into a super-freak booze infusion (see box). And if THAT doesn't work, hit up the Mega Millions-you gotta play to win!
2 handles (1.75-liter bottles) vodka (the cheap stuff is fine, infusing helps smooth it out)Take a piece of cheesecloth, or even a clean dish towel or piece of T-shirt, and wrap up the nibs and saffron threads, closing it by tying with twine. Leave a long end of twine to make removal easier.
8 ounces cacao nibs
1/2 teaspoon saffron threads
2 sticks cinnamon
1 vanilla bean
1/4 cup sweetened rose water
Add remaining ingredients and the nib/saffron "tea bag" (sorry!) to a 1-gallon jar or pitcher, leaving a length of twine hanging outside of the vessel. Pour vodka in, making sure to soak the tea bag.
Leave out to infuse for at least 3 days, agitating the ingredients occasionally.
Serve chilled and up in a martini glass, a thinking man's (or woman's) chocolate martini, if you will. Add more rose water to adjust sweetness as necessary.