Valentine's Day recipes
Chocolate scores well in the aphrodisiac department, according to Richard Cornish. Photo: Marina Oliphant
The brief appeared simple. Identify the top 10 food aphrodisiacs and see whether they actually work. With many apparent top libido-enhancing consumables - shark fin, rhino horn, tiger penis - considered unethical, illegal and unappetising, our list needed to be legal and edible. A tweet asking ''Name an aphrodisiac that works'', was met with ''Peck's Fish Paste'', ''shepherd's pie'' and ''prawn nachos''. Striking out with crowdsourcing, we compiled a list of the most frequently cited, having eliminated honey, mango and whipped cream.
To determine whether the final 10 alleged aphrodisiacs had the ability to facilitate any increase in reproductive urges, it was my task to consume them in a bland environment, with no chance of stimulation or excitement. I settled for my home office, turning off Wi-Fi and covering my reference library with a sheet to obscure the spines of lascivious books such as The Field Guide to the Birds of Australia by Graham Pizzey and The History of English Food by Clarissa Dickson Wright.
After consuming each food, I would sit and wait, taking note of any changes in pulse, temperature and inclinations towards any procreative behaviours.
Zinc store: Eating fresh oysters helps boost dopamine. Photo: Jennifer Soo
1. Foie gras
This high-status food reeks of the style and finesse of French fine dining. A seared lobe of fresh foie gras is a mark that one can afford the best and is an obvious signal that one sees oneself as an alpha human. The smooth fat melts like butter on the tongue and has a delicate animal fragrance that sets one up for a night of pleasure.
It is impossible to buy fresh foie gras in Australia and it is illegal to produce it, for the force-feeding of geese or ducks to enlarge their livers is deemed inhumane. Imported pasteurised foie gras is available, however. The contents of a 65-gram tin of foie gras de canard (duck liver pâˆté´) were incredibly rich, and rather than inspiring ardour, a generous smear on dry toast brought on a slight queasy headache. Real foie gras may be a turn-on for some, but having a belly full of goose-liver fat is not the foundation for a night of wild abandon.
Asparagus is packed with folic acid, essential for producing histamine in the body. Photo: Jennifer Soo
0/10 Don't be a goose and keep it lean.
Thrusting from the cold earth in spring, asparagus is packed with folic acid, essential for producing histamine in the body, which, in turn, plays an important role in ''the climb to ecstasy'', as they say in the romance classics. Some of the aromas produced by quality asparagus have what is sometimes described as ''the scent of honeymooners''.
The velvety texture of avocado flesh is meant to evoke an erotic mindset. Photo: Jennifer Soo
Asparagus is a spring vegetable with a brief reprise in autumn. The asparagus we found had been imported from Mexico and was shrivelled and bordering on flaccid with just a hint of ''honeymoon'' aroma.
1/10 Limp produce maintains status quo.
Figs contain a healthy amount of polyphenols, antioxidants and flavonoids, which have been linked to prolonged sexual performance. Photo: Jennifer Soo
Proto-foodie Jean AnthelmeBrillat-Savarin once wrote, ''Truffle. As soon as the word is spoken, it awakens lustful and erotic memories among the skirt-wearing sex and erotic and lustful memories among the beard-wearing sex.'' When ripe, this underground fungus, pictured left, produces a scent that replicates the male pheromone androstenone, attracting animals that in turn distribute the spores. A British university experiment has shown that both men and women exposed to a good whiff of androstenone were more likely to rate images of other people's bodies more attractive than those who hadn't been exposed to the compound.
When in Europe I will go out of my way, and quite some distance, to eat truffles, particularly Alba truffles from Italy, and concur wholeheartedly with Monsieur Brillat-Savarin. Fresh truffles are olfactory ''doors of perception'' letting the nose unleash the most animal parts of our brain. The French black truffle we were able to procure, however, may have spent some time in immigration detention and had lost much of its powerful scent, rendering it an expensive garnish for poached eggs.
4/10 Fresh is best.
Chillies contain a compound called capsaicin which can increase heart rate and dialate the blood vessels. Photo: Jennifer Soo
The original avocados were small and looked like elongated eggs, which is why the Aztecs of Meso America called them ahuacatl or testes. Modern avocados are more curvaceous and contain potassium and vitamins E and B6 - good for lowering stress. The velvety texture of the flesh is meant to evoke an erotic mindset.
The avocado we bought was picked not chilled, allowing it to ripen evenly. Eaten blindfolded, the avocado's soft flesh was perfectly smooth and wonderfully slippery in the mouth. Another sample was mashed for guacamole, which was more reminiscent of baby food than making babies.
4/10 Smooth, cool and voluptuous.
Bananas' obvious suggestive shape is nothing compared to its chemical war-chest of sex aids. There's bromelain, an enzyme thought to prolong a gentleman's performance. You'll also find the compound tryptophan, which metabolises as the feel-good serotonin, and eating a banana also stimulates the release in the brain of naturally occurring dopamine.
The shorter length and lesser girth of the lady finger banana sampled was not nearly as impressive as, say, a plantain. It may have been all that naturally occurring sugar but eating this perfectly ripe lady finger gave me a bit of a feel-good buzz.
5/10 ''I feel good. I knew that I would now'' - James Brown.
It was a fig, not an apple, according to some scholars, that was the forbidden fruit that Eve offered Adam. Figs contain a healthy amount of polyphenols, antioxidants and flavonoids, which have been linked to prolonged sexual performance.
A ripe fig is a truly sensual experience, a weighty little morsel that opens to reveal a mound of ripe red flesh. A truly committed fig eater will pry it apart with their fingers and pull the ripe flesh and seeds into their mouth. Truly ripe figs need to be picked straight from the tree. The ones we tested cost us a less-than-sexy $60 a kilogram.
5/10 Let your mind go a wanderin' in these globes of sweet flesh.
Hot, red and phallic, chillies contain a compound called capsaicin, a powerful irritant that protects the seed-bearing parts of the plant from pest attack. We describe this irritation as ''heat'' and it produces pain-killing endorphins we find pleasurable. Capsaicin can increase the heart rate and dilate the blood vessels. In Mexico, chillies are claimed to be aphrodisiacs.
In Mexico everything, including a dozen carnitas washed down with half a dozen warm cervesas, is an aphrodisiac. For this test we bought a ripe red chilli the greengrocer couldn't name. Sweet and mild initially, it produced a warm tingling then pleasantly painful sensation in the mouth, lips and tongue. To those preparing a romantic meal involving chillies for a lover, we recommend wearing rubber gloves during handling as any capsaicin remaining on your fingers could cause more pain than pleasure later.
6/10 ''It's a fine line between pleasure and pain / You've done it once, you can do it again.'' - Divinyls. 1985
Another food from Meso America, chocolate - or xocolatl - was used in sacred Aztec rites, on their wedding nights and loaded Montezuma's coffers. Scientists have isolated three compounds that have helped chocolate maintain its mantle as a provoker of desire. Theobromine in chocolate raises the heart rate and dilates blood vessels in the same way as does sex. Phenylethylamine has been called the ''love drug'' and occurs naturally in the brain but is found in higher quantities when first in love. Tryptophan breaks down into serotonin, which gives us a sense of well-being.
Eating pieces of a solid block of dark, 70 per cent chocolate made from beans grown on a small plantation on the Solomon Islands, I was astounded by the complex fruity, smoky, dark and tropical aromas. It was a sensory island holiday. With a cocktail of love drugs and the chocolate's caffeine running through my veins, I can honestly say this was a pleasure kickstarter. Warning. Stop at a few pieces and don't eat an entire block.
7/10 Happy endings come in silver foil.
Most of us know that oysters contain zinc, essential in sperm production. Oysters also produce amino acids such as tyrosine, which we metabolise into dopamine. The contours of the oyster's membranes and creamy salty zing are described as the yin and yan of gustatory extrapolation of sex itself.
The unseasonably hot weather meant there was no way I could get the oysters to my home office safely. So I asked my fishmonger to shuck six fat Sydney rock oysters (freshly shucked is the only way to go) and ate them on the spot. The briny taste and tang of iodine were balanced by their overt creaminess.
8/10 A dozen of these and the world is your oyster.
Alcohol of any type changes one's behaviour. For many people, a few drinks will make them less anxious, more altruistic, inhibit protective behaviours and bolster the ego. When two people drink alcohol together the alcohol doesn't act as an aphrodisiac but it does dissolve the social and personal barriers that would otherwise get in the way of them getting it on.
When I told a good mate of mine I was doing this story he said, ''VB is responsible for the existence of more Australians than anything else combined.'' From long experience of hanging out in the kitchen at parties, I know that alcohol and shacking up with someone for the night, or much longer for that matter, is a tried and tested recipe.
9/10 Tippling can be titillating.