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Food for hawt

Can eats and treats really lead to something between the sheets?

  • Avocado can be an aphrodisiac.
Avocado can be an aphrodisiac. (Michael Tercha/Chicago…)
February 13, 2012|By Georgia Garvey, RedEye

You've heard about the romantic properties of oysters, but what about asparagus?

Cayenne pepper?


When it comes to in-the-mood foods, it turns out there's a lot couples order on Valentine's Day if they're hoping to get more than the check at the end of the meal. Romance-inspiring dishes have been a part of human lore for centuries, from the truffles prized by ancient Greeks and Romans to the death by chocolate cake you can get today in Chicago.

The foods – aphrodisiacs, you might call them – are said to inspire physical reactions that get men and women in the mood for love, improve their staying power in bed or make them just plain sexier. The appeal is pretty obvious.

"Humans have understood all along the role that food plays not only in their health and wellness but also in their sexual life," said Kantha Shelke, a food chemist and a principal at Chicago-based nutrition think tank Corvus Blue. She points to media personalities such as Oprah and Dr. Oz as the latest players in a long tradition of linking food to outcomes in life, whether it's sexual desire, longevity or even fertility.

"We all think that maybe we are missing out on something," Shelke said. "So we are looking for it in our food."

And while there's no automatic pants-dropping that comes after eating any of these aphrodisiac foods, evidence shows some do create a legitimate neurological change in our bodies. Your face might flush, you could feel warm. Maybe, Shelke said, your body will even tingle all over.

"We do eat many foods that create that kind of metabolic or physiological response in us. We are only aware of it when we are in a quieter setting with" someone we're attracted to, Shelke said. "It's not just reaching an orgasm, but it's more level of heightened sensuality, and that is something that food can actually bring to us."

For those seeking a shortcut to their date's heart this Valentine's Day, Shelke said, there are some common characteristics to look for: appearance, smell and taste. Appearance-wise, plenty of aphrodisiac foods look like body parts. (Get your mind out of the gutter—we're also talking about heart shapes!) And once you've noticed the resemblance, it's not a leap to get your brain thinking about love and sex.

"Heart-shaped foods tend to be very popular," Shelke said, noting the sexy reputation enjoyed by figs and artichokes. "Historically, we've liked food that looks like that."

When it comes to smells, it's more difficult to generalize, she says. It's all about memories. Take, for example, someone who has positive associations with the smell of his mom's chocolate chip cookies. When he comes across an ingredient that evokes that memory—brown sugar, for instance—the happiness he felt then might be recalled, causing him to experience a pleasurable feeling eating dinner with his partner. Others might have a powerful connection to baking bread or mac 'n' cheese. The affinity for particular flavors also is very personal.

"Just as there are people who like sweet, there are people who like savory," Shelke said. Whatever your particular trigger, the feeling of happiness is the same. "In some people, very hot spices, the habanero peppers, the jalapeno peppers also release a similar kind of emotion."

Whether you're a fan of sweet or savory, some ingredients just tend to do the trick, Shelke said. Here are 10 of the top food items she called out for their particularly sexy properties.


There are plenty of well-deserved reasons for their reputation, including their treasure-like appearance and their resemblance to a body part.

Cayenne pepper

It's got capsaicin in it, a stimulant that gets your brain primed for action.


This food's got it all: a long history of being considered an aphrodisiac, a pleasing smooth and creamy texture and a teardrop shape that mimics the curves of a body. Eat it in combinations with things such as black pepper or honey to up your love quotient.


The evocative smell, the texture and the stimulant properties of chocolate all make it a good option. Something like the spices in a Mexican hot chocolate intensify the effect.


Ah, booze. Use in moderation, experts say. Too much and you could be looking at the – ahem – opposite of a performance-enhancing drug.


It stimulates the mucus secretion along your throat and diaphram, which sounds gross but actually results in a smoother voice.


When it comes to caviar, it's sort of more about what the food says than what it actually does. There's a link between fish eggs and fertility, sure, but what caviar really says is, "I can afford to buy caviar." Rowr.


Yes, oats. The "sowing your wild oats" phrase came from traditional stories of young men who ate oats and got a resulting libido spike. In some parts of Russia and Eastern Europe, oatmeal in cereal or cookie form is considered an aphrodisiac.


Sounds boring, but this could be the most effective digestible you could eat Feb. 14 when it comes to romance. The vitamins and minerals supply the energy you'll want and keep you looking your best, a plus when you're trying to bring the romance.


You can take them in pill form as well as consuming them. Take flaxseed oil or evening primrose oil (if you're a vegetarian) or krill oil (if you're a meat-eater). They balance your sex hormones.


In honor of the Big V-Day, food chemist Kantha Shelke helped develop a menu of what she termed "lust-have foods" with qualities that could help boost your sex life. Enjoy in good health.

Appetizer: Toasted almonds

Drink: One or two glasses of champagne with strawberries floated in them

Dinner: Something with "essential fatty acids;" salmon is a good choice.

Dessert: Chocolate, of course, made even more potent with the addition of spices or avocado (seriously!). | @gcgarvey

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