February 24, 2000 09:00am
Getting It On With Eggplant (The truth about aphrodisiacs, we swear.)
by: Stephanie Groll
My fascination with aphrodisiacs began when I was steeped in virginity. Back then, I had plenty of time to laze around in my room
with my life-sized Pink Panther. At one point, I got my hands on Nancy Friday's "Secret Garden" and thus transformed my sexual persona from a horny juvenile to a lusty sophisticate.
But the closer I got to actual penetration, the larger my fear of the phallus loomed. Sure, I was afraid that it would hurt me physically, but even scarier was the fact that I wouldn't know what to do with it. Teen self-consciousness had set in.
My solution came from a bad '80s movie with Tom Cruise called "Losin' It", where he and his high school buddies set off on a quest to abandon their virginity with the help of something called "Spanish fly."
Apparently, this substance makes women lose all morality and fall madly into bed with the man who administers it. If I could get some, then I could cast off my inhibitions and get on with it. Hubba hubba.
Since you can't ask just anybody where to get some Spanish fly, I asked my trusted older sister who told me that she didn't even think it really existed. Damn. On to raw teenage experimentation with an equally inexperienced boy.
Turns out Spanish fly does exist but I'm lucky I never found any. According to the Food and Drug Administration's (FDA) consumer magazine, Spanish fly is made from dried beetle remains and it can lead to burns, infections, scarring, and even death. "The reported sexual excitement from Spanish fly comes from the irritation to the urogenital tract and a resultant rush of blood to the sex organs," says the magazine. Ouch.
You Are What You Eat
Nevertheless, I tired of the old in-out before too long. So I started fantasizing about aphrodisiacs once again could they actually make sex better? After a little cookbook research, I was overwhelmed by the sheer numbers of common ingredients in this category onions, celery, chocolate, mustard, pine nuts. It turns out that I eat aphrodisiacs every day, which, some people would claim, explains a lot about me.
Love-foods basically break down into a few categories. Spicy foods (chilis and garlic) increase circulation and make you sweat a little, which some people mistake for being turned on. But the danger of slipping your partner a garlic mickey is their resultant firebreath: HHHHi there.
Some people like to consume foods that merely look like genitalia (ginseng for men and oysters for women), while others have gone so far as to eat animal genitalia (tiger penis soup is an expensive and illegal delicacy in Hong Kong) for improved virility. But unless you're a necrophiliac, I can't imagine why this would work. I may have molested my Pink Panther, but I certainly did not eat his penis.
Many aphrodisiacs are rooted in ancient myth, such as the birth of Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love, who sprang forth from an oyster. Boticelli's rendition of Venus perched on her seashell dais is a reminder that almost all shellfish is said to have aphrodisiac effects. And let's not forget the endless list of over-the-counter pills that claim to have an unparalleled erotic effect on the taker.
According to the FDA there is no scientific proof that aphrodisiacs work. It's almost impossible to do a reliable study due to the placebo effect. If you give one person a pill containing an aphrodisiac and another a placebo sugar pill, and they both think that they have the aphrodisiac, the power of suggestion will likely get in the way.
"The mind is the most potent aphrodisiac there is," said John Renner, founder of the Consumer Health Information Research Institute (CHIRI), in an interview with FDA Consumer magazine.
You Lucky Rat, You!
Luckily, animals don't have these psychological complications, so studies by the FDA on the effectiveness of yohimbine, an African tree bark, have yielded "encouraging" results, but that says nothing for its effectiveness in humans all we know is that lab rats never had it so good.
Even if the placebo effect could be eliminated, we'd still have to battle cultural taboos on studying sex. Locking the subjects in a room with a pill, a bed, and a camera sounds more like a sequel to "Boogie Nights" than a serious research project.
I can just see a scientist in a white lab coat surveying the subjects: "Theresa, when you said, 'Do it to me harder,' did you mean 'That feels good' or 'I can't feel your small member?'"
It began to seem that the aphrodisiac myth was based simply on the concept of being healthy. The list of aphrodisiacs when considered altogether contain a balance of vitamins and minerals that are important for general health. Feeling good automatically puts some people in the mood. The FDA Consumer magazine says, "A good diet and regular exercise program are a more dependable path to better sex than are goats' eyes, deer sperm, and frogs' legs."
But try telling that to a world obsessed with a quick fix (liposuction comes to mind).
Because the efficacy of aphrodisiacs has only been accounted for anecdotally, I set out to do my own test. Millennium, a San Francisco restaurant, offers a monthly dinner made with mostly aphrodisiac foods. The prix fixe meal includes a night's stay in the adjoining Abagail Hotel, so patrons can pay the bill and get right down to business. With reminders of Valentine's Day still lingering, I enlisted my boyfriend, Doug, to help me with my little experiment.
Even though Doug hates Hallmark holidays, he happily agreed. This man, after all, is the same curious little imp who wants to get his hands on Viagra, but not out of necessity. When I innocently asked why he wanted to try it, he blinked and replied, "Don't you?"
A Sexy Supper
We dined on course after course of complex flavors and sensuous textures. Smoked baba ghanoush antipasto was followed by an avocado, jicama, and sesame salad with kumquat dressing. Appetizers were oyster mushroom calamari and hot 'n' sour "shark fin" soup with ginger, lily buds, and banana blossoms.
We had a choice between a wild mushroom and hazelnut stuffed artichoke and chipotle grilled seitan roulade for the entrée, and for dessert, we could have chocolate mousse cake with blood orange sorbet or strawberry rose rhubarb soup with coconut tapioca pudding.
Our nightcap was a Chinese herbal love potion made with lemonade, cranberry, pomegranate juice, ginseng, cornus, moutan, and more.
It was the single most fabulous meal I've ever experienced. Presentation, service, taste it was all there. Usually, the problem I've encountered with aphrodisiacs is that I want to eat a lot to make sure they take effect, but then I've eaten so much that I'm stuffed. That's why this meal was so perfect Chef Eric Tucker spun a tantalizing menu from easily digestible all-vegan ingredients, which left me feeling content, but not heavy with cream and meat.
After five years of monthly aphrodisiac nights, the restaurant staff has seen some wild things. "No one has disappeared under the table," said Assistant Manager Chris Maykut. "But we did have a foursome come in one time. They were very vocal about the fact that they were all sharing the same room later."
If the promise of pornographic details kept you reading, you're out of luck, horn-dog. But I will admit that my skin began to tingle once I hit the third course, and the evening took off from there. Doug had a lovely time, too.
You have no idea how relieved I am to discover that some things can be even better than a life-sized Pink Panther.
Want to experiment with some frisky foods on your own? Here's a partial list of the treats that are said to be aphrodisiacs:
almonds, ambergris, ambrette, angelica, artichokes, asparagus, avocados
beets, caviar, celery, chickpeas, chili peppers, chocolate, cloves, coriander
dove brains, fennel, figs, garlic, ginger, ginseng, grapes
honey, horseradish, jasmine, lime
musk, mustard, nutmeg, oregano, oysters, pine nuts, pomegranate
rosemary, saffron, salep (from orchid tubers), sasparella, savory, thyme, vanilla, verbena, and wild (non-poisonous!) mushrooms
Stephanie Groll is ChickClick's very satisfied project editor.