Everyone knows that chocolate and oysters are supposed to spark romantic passion, but whether or not they actually do anything is tough to say. Oftentimes, the aphrodisiac-like qualities have little to do with the chemical makeup of the food itself, and have more to do with factors like appearance, availability and cost. If bread suddenly became incredibly scarce, you might be pretty impressed if a suitor brought you a freshly-baked loaf of sourdough. Though there have been countless items used to enhance sexual drive throughout history, these six really stand out as either strange, dangerous, or surprisingly effective (according to science, anyway). Some of these we definitely don’t recommend you try out for yourself (especially Spanish Fly), but why not give a few a try? You never know...
Prepare to be disgusted. Ambergris is a grey, waxy (and highly flammable) substance found in the intestines of sperm whales. Made up of half-digested squid and cuttlefish beaks and whatever else the whale may swallow, scientists think it’s created as a sort of lubricant to make it easier for large objects to be digested and then secreted as fecal matter. So basically, ambergris is whale poop that floats along, basking in the sun, and sometimes eventually washes ashore. When it’s fresh, this “floating gold” smells like feces (shocker), but once it ages for years (ew), it takes on a musky, almost sweet scent.
Historically, it has been used for both an aphrodisiac and a medicinal treatment. The Ancient Greeks used to use it to ease digestive pain and to make wine stronger (which seems a little counter-productive), while others used it to cure sore throats and mental diseases. With its waxy texture and musky odor, it was also added to perfumes and thought to relieve sexual dysfunctions. Its “animal magnetism” may actually have a kernel of truth though, because a scientific study in 1995 found that there’s a quality in ambergris called ambrien that causes male rats to be more sexually active.
It’s illegal almost everywhere to procure by poaching, but if you happen to find some drifting along in the ocean or on a sandy shore, it’s yours (if you want it) for the taking. Considering it's so hard to find some by natural means, it’s generally priced at $20/gram, so you can always sell it if you don't want to actually use it.
As one of the most well-known aphrodisiacs (Casanova apparently ate 50 of them a day for breakfast), there are many theories as to why oysters are thought to illicit a sexual response—including the fact that they might look like a certain part of female anatomy. In 2005, a group of scientists decided to put the food to the test and concluded that there is actually some chemical truth to it all. Using a process called high-performance liquid chromatography, the researchers found D-aspartic acid (D-Asp) and N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) amino acids, which are the same ones that the earth uses to create life. Prior to this discovery, it was discovered that when rats were given those same acids, they got an increase in testosterone and progesterone.
Usually only added to pancakes and tea nowadays, honey used to be brought out to promote pregnancy. The ancient Greeks apparently prescribed the sticky, sweet food (sometimes mixed with milk) to incite sexual arousal. The Vikings used it to boost fertility, Indian brides would offer their new husbands honey, Eastern European cultures would use it in courtship rituals, and newlyweds in ancient Persia would sip a fermented honey drink every night to ensure a happy marriage. This is also where many think the “honeymoon” term originated from.
As the most dangerous on the list, Spanish Fly is made by crushing the dried-out bodies of emerald green blister beetles of the Meloidae family. These insects secrete a defensive agent substance called cantharidin, which can cause the skin to blister (hence the bug’s name). As it passes through your system, the cantharidin irritates the genitals and sends a rush of blood—which mimics that of arousal—but if you ingest too much of it, it’s also a lethal poison. Apparently, just six drops of the stuff in wine can kill a person. So, if you need an erection that badly, might we suggest Viagra?
If you’re a big Shakespeare fan, you may have found yourself reading The Merry Wives of Windsor and wondering why Falstaff lists potatoes on his list of aphrodisiacs. Turns out, potatoes and sweet potatoes were known as a sexual aide in Europe when the root was a rare delicacy imported from North America and were used by Amazonian women to increase sex drive. If eating a baked potato every night can be justified this way, we’re 100 percent on board.
We can’t skip this one, as it’s definitely the most common. The satisfying dessert features chemicals (tryptophan, phenylethylamine, and anandaminde) that all work to produces feelings of bliss and desire. Though nowadays chocolate is eaten as often as breakfast (sometimes it’s even eaten for breakfast…or so we’ve heard), the cocoa bean was revered in the 14th century. Aztec ruler Montezuma used to consume it 50 times a day before a long night spend with his harem, so there must be some truth there, right? Well, scientists are pretty sure that any effect you feel after eating that third truffle is merely psychological. The quantities one would have to eat in order to feel more sexually inclined on a chemical level would be enough to put anyone in a diabetic coma. And that’s not sexy.