In Laura Esquivel’s popular novel Like Water For Chocolate, the protagonist expresses her emotion through cooking — literally. If she feels frisky, anyone who tries her sauce gets a little tingly, too. While that may sound like mere fictionalized fodder, many people believe aromas from the kitchen can stir desire. In the spirit of Valentine’s Day, we’ve whipped up a list of six aphrodisiacs served around America that could help get things cooking around your way.
Apparently Italian adventurer Casanova was on to something with his daily breakfast of 50 raw oysters: A 2005 Barry University study presented to the American Chemical Society found that oysters (as well as clams, mussels and scallops) have two rare amino acids that raise levels of testosterone and progesterone. The effect is most potent when the oysters are raw, like at Atlanta’s Oyster Bar at The Optimist, which shucks and serves these bivalves—from well-known spots like Mystic, Conn., and Fanny Bay, British Columbia—on the half shell. If you prefer them cooked, order the wood-roasted oysters topped with paprika, butter, smoky bacon and Parmesan.
This rare shellfish—its supply is strictly controlled to keep it from being overfished—is revered as an aphrodisiac, especially in Asian cultures. The tender-yet-toothsome flesh is loaded with selenium and magnesium, which aid in the production of sex hormones. At modern seafood emporium (and Forbes Travel Guide Five-Star restaurant) L20 in Chicago, the tasting menu features the fabled shabu-shabu course (similar to a hot pot), in which abalone, kampachi and foie gras are cooked tabletop in a dashi broth. Over in New York, Nobu Fifty Seven serves lightly steamed baby abalone in a miso-mustard sauce on its special Valentine omakase menu.
Shellfish in general are loaded with zinc and other minerals essential for a healthy libido; this bright red crustacean is the most evocative of all. At Forbes Travel Guide Four-Star Asiate in Mandarin Oriental, New York, a butter-poached Maine lobster with white polenta and kaffir emulsion is the penultimate savory dish on the tasting menu. Meanwhile, out in Los Angeles, chef Lee Hefter features Maine lobster with tarragon (it smells like licorice), parsnip purée and wintry root vegetables in a sauce Americaine on the Valentine’s menu at Wolfgang Puck at Hotel Bel-Air.
Black and white truffles share an earthy, alluring scent that’s thought to mimic human pheromones. They drive pigs wild, which is why the animals are used to sniff them out, and French gourmet and philosopher Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin observed that the very word truffle evokes erotic memories. Well-known French chef Guy Savoy knows a thing or two about truffles; his signature artichoke and black truffle soup with toasted mushroom brioche and black truffle butter is a staple at his eponymous restaurant in Caesars Palace Las Vegas.
Legend has it that the term honeymoon comes from the old Viking custom of giving newlyweds a month’s worth of the honey wine mead to drink. Bee nectar has boron, vitamin B and other substances thought to be important for sex hormone production. At Forbes Travel Guide Five-Star Menton in Boston, chef and Forbes Travel Guide Tastemaker Barbara Lynch crafts a blood orange galette with poppy seed, vanilla and local honey. The nectar also sweetens the secret, off-menu Hip Hop Cocktail at Martin Yan’s upscale M.Y. China in San Francisco. If the honey doesn’t do the trick, the sneaky combo of Anchor Distilling’s new Hophead vodka, tequila and Anchor Steam beer will.
As any chocolate lover knows, eating theobroma cacao—“food of the gods” in Latin—causes the release of endorphins, our natural feel-good chemicals. The Lover’s Tasting Menu at Amaya in The Grand Del Mar comes to a crescendo with a chocolate passion délice, a milk chocolate mousse offset with tangy passion fruit cream and raspberry sauce. Across the Forbes Travel Guide Five-Star San Diego resort at Addison, a torte au chocolat with a sweet-tart passion fruit gastrique and vanilla gelato brings the Valentine’s Day tasting menu to a tantalizing conclusion.
Photos Courtesy of Andrew Thomas, Guy Savoy and Mandarin Oriental New York