Maine Lobster: America's Aphrodisiac

We may receive a commission on purchases made from links.

The history of food throughout the ages is intertwined with the history of romance and sex. Societies around the world and throughout the ages have treated certain culinary delights as aphrodisiacs with reverence — societies, that is, with the exception of ours. Perhaps it is the influence of a government agency (the FDA maintains that no food should be considered a sexual aid) or perhaps it is the puritanical nature deeply rooted in the American psyche that has largely kept us from celebrating the sensuality of aphrodisiacs.

There is one, delightful, delicious, and luxurious exception to our distinct lack of American aphrodisiacs: the Maine lobster. However, to say that the classification of lobster as an aphrodisiac is a strictly American tradition would be shortsighted.

Since antiquity, all shellfish has been linked with Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love. In Lobster, expert on the crustacean Richard J. King makes reference to the shellfish's thousand-year reputation as an aphrodisiac. Mediterranean lobster was embraced at the tables of ancient Greece, (although I've never read any reports of the ancient Greeks hosting lobster-enhanced orgies), and I have found accounts of lobsters being served for the purpose of sexual satisfaction in the Central American nation of Belize. At one time, Australian lobster was supposed to have been in great demand in Asia for use as an aphrodisiac.

Of course, none of these shellfish are quite the same as the crustacean we know as Maine lobster, nor have these varieties reached the international popularity as an aphrodisiac that the American variety now enjoys. 

But Maine lobster was not always considered an aphrodisiac. In fact, its reputation is rather new in the grand scheme of aphrodisiac history. At one time, lobsters were crushed and used as fertilizer. They were the food of peasants and prisoners. So plentiful was New England's lobster population that fishermen considered them an annoying by-catch. David Foster Wallace's essay on the topic, Consider the Lobster, goes into great (although largely exaggerated) detail into the early American distaste for the shellfish. But around the mid-nineteenth century, the technique of canning was perfected and lobster became a protein of choice for preserving in a can. Unfortunately, it was the invention of canning that was in some ways also lobster's downfall, depleting populations to the point where in some areas, lobster became scarce.

Soon lobster was en vogue and in the just before the turn of the twentieth century, New York City's Lobster Palace Society emerged. Elaborate, expensive, glamorous, seductive (and often gaudy) restaurants, Lobster Palaces specialized in lobster preparations and attracted a wealthy and famous clientele. These restaurants made the shellfish wildly popular as an indulgence and introduced many of the preparations still served today including lobster Newberg and lobster Victoria.

It was during the Lobster Palace era that the crustacean rose to the status some call the "King of Aphrodisiacs." These establishments, known both for their glamour and their sultry, sensual atmosphere, solidified lobster's reputation as a luxury food while linking it with the sensuality these clubs exuded. But it was not the Palaces alone that elevated lobster's reputation. According to I, Lobster: A Crustacean Odyssey, artists and authors of the time heavily influenced the image of lobster as a sex symbol.

Salvador Dali, in particular, seemed to find the Maine lobster positively erotic. His Aphrodisiac Telephone, featuring a handset shaped like a boiled lobster, might be the single most powerful catalyst for propelling the crustacean into the history books as America's home-grown sexual stimulant. And if Aphrodisiac Telephone didn't seal the deal, then surely Dali's later work, in collaboration with fashion designer Elsa Schiaparelli, a ball gown featuring a red lobster tail fanned across the wearer's sexual powerhouse with the animal's body trailing down her thighs, seared into the mind of anyone who viewed the garment the notion that lobster and sex are powerfully linked. [pullquote:right]

Today we have an understanding of just what it is about lobsters that might lead to sexual prowess.  As nutritional consultant Delahna Flagg explains it, "Lobster is a lean and low calorie source of protein." (Note, protein provides the sustained energy required for a long night of loving.) Flagg adds that lobster also offers the key essential nutrients of magnesium and vitamin B12. Dr. Andrew Weil recommends lobster as a good source of iodine, a nutrient recognized for its role in regulating hormone production (it would be wrong not to point out that for some, lobster may best serve libido and overall health in moderate doses. It is high in cholesterol, with the average serving providing about 40 percent of the recommended daily value; it also contains about 18 percent of the recommended daily value of sodium).

Since lobster is an indulgence (both for your wallet and your cholesterol intake), it should be selected and prepared with care to ensure the greatest pleasure and most aphrodisiac outcome.

Chef Nitzi Rabin of Cape Cod's Chillingsworth restaurant is no stranger to Maine lobster, since the precious shellfish are sourced in the bay mere steps from his front door. If you like the coral (or roe), Rabin recommends learning to identify a female from male lobster  The roe is the internal egg sack on female lobsters. It is a vibrant orange-red in color and is, according to some aficionados, the most aphrodisiac morsel. In order to identify the female, turn the lobster over and inspect the first set of swimmerets, (the tiny flippers on the tail). If the swimmerets are soft and feathery, you're holding a female.

My personal favorite method for cooking lobster is one that was favored by Julia Child: microwaving. The technique allows the sweet, briny flavor of the luxury crustacean to shine. Although it produces a similar result to simply boiling, the flavor of the flesh is more intense, moist and succulent when lobster is microwaved. Simply seal the crustacean and 1 tablespoon of water in a heavy, microwave-safe, airtight bag.  Cook six minutes for the first pound plus a minute for every additional ¼ pound. Serve with a side of drawn butter your lover can lick from your fingers as dessert.