With Valentine's Day quickly approaching, there's no better time than the present to kick it up a notch in the romance department. Although plans to celebrate often stir indulgences in extravagant lingerie, exotic fragrances and creating the perfect candlelit setting, taking a closer look at the food you eat on Feb. 14 may have the biggest impact on your sex life. A wide variety of aphrodisiac foods are readily available, all claiming to have some type of "love power" due to their aroma, shape (hello, banana!), color or the chemicals they produce in the body. So, if your love life has been a little vanilla lately (also claimed to be an aphrodisiac), use this special day to get creative with the following five foods:
1. Chili Peppers
Chili peppers are one of the rare treats of the aphrodisiac food list. The spice is not only invigorating and stimulating, but its bright red color is considered a symbol of love by many. The shape is, well, self-explanatory. Most importantly, the chili pepper's effect on the body has actual scientific backing. The spice is known to increase pulse rate and induce sweating, mirroring sexual arousal. In addition, it stimulates the release of certain endorphins that play a role in sexual pleasure. This Valentine's, why not combine this aphrodisiac with number two on our list to create an incredible chili pepper chocolate treat (see recipe below)?
Originally found in the rain forests of Central and South America, chocolate has a long-standing association with love and romance. It was also nicknamed the "food of the gods" by Mayan civilizations. Scientific research on this delicious treat shows it contains phenylethylamine, a feel-good chemical that occurs naturally in the body when someone is happy or feeling passionate. It also contains tryptophan, a brain chemical that yields serotonin, which is known to produce feelings of elation. While dark cacao nibs are one of the rawest forms of chocolate, they can prove too intense for some palates. Dark chocolate or high-quality cacao mixes are great alternatives.
The most celebrated of aphrodisiac foods, oysters have a reputation for fertility. Research shows they are high in zinc, which science has linked to increased sperm production. Oysters also contain two unusual amino acids – D-aspartic acid and N-methyl-D-aspartate, both known to trigger the production of sex hormones. Eating this libido-lifting treat raw ensures you get the greatest benefits of these amino acids, as cooking significantly reduces the amount.
Licorice has been touted by some as enhancing lust, and its aroma is hailed for its stimulating effects. Alan Hirsch, neurological director of the Smell and Taste Treatment and Research Foundation in Chicago, led a study that tested the link of certain smells and their effect on sexual arousal. Licorice was a top contender, and Hirsch found the smell alone increased blood flow to the penis by 13 percent. Now, where's that box of Good & Plenty?
While many of us reach for this stimulant to help with energy, did you know it also increases blood flow by raising the heart rate? In addition, according to a study titled "Coffee, Tea and Me," published in the journal Pharmacology, Biochemistry and Behavior, this aphrodisiac may help put females in the mood for sex. Energy and an increased desire for sex? Honey, turn on the Keurig (GMCR)!
Although Dr. Ruth likes to say that "the most important sex organ lies between the ears," it never hurts to go the extra mile when it comes to love. Get creative, and sample some of the above-mentioned aphrodisiacs this Valentine's Day to see if science really nailed it.
Spicy Chili Pepper Chocolate Bark
12 ounces dark chocolate (buy the best you can afford, preferably with a minimum of 40 percent cacao)
1½ tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
1½ tablespoons chili pepper
1 tablespoon Aleppo chili pepper (a slightly milder, fruit-ier pepper)
1½ tablespoons cinnamon
1 tablespoon sweet paprika
½ cup crushed cashews or almonds (optional)
Line a baking pan with wax paper. In a double-boiler, mix all ingredients until smooth. If you're using nuts, you may want to leave some aside. Once ingredients are mixed well, pour chocolate onto the wax paper in your baking pan. Spread out evenly. Top with the remaining cashews or almonds, if using. This is a time for creativity. Some people top the bark with chopped-up pieces of chili peppers, dried cranberries or cherries, etc. Chill for two to three hours, or until set. Break into 20 to 24 pieces, and store in an airtight container.