According to Greek mythology, Aphrodite emerged from the foaming sea bearing foods, drinks, and herbs that stimulated sexual desire. While at first this tale led to the belief in ocean-derived aphrodisiacs such as oysters, by now the net has been flung much wider, and it seems that anything remotely suggestive is touted as a love potion. Just in time for Valentine's Day, we consulted Bay Area sexologist Joy Nordenstrom, who specializes in aphrodisiac-based dinner parties, to help us sort through all of the chemical compounds thought to rev our engines. Here's our guide to 10 love drugs that'll put you in the mood.
The law of likeness, or "sympathetic magic" as it's sometimes called, goes something like this: if it looks like a sex organ, it'll make you horny. Clearly phallic in shape, this sexy stalk is not only a psychological aphrodisiac, but also a chemical one. Asparagus which you can get in season at Zuckerman's Farm at Ferry Plaza Farmer's Market (1 Ferry Building, SF. 415-291-3276, www.ferryplazafarmersmarket.com), contains substantial amounts of aspartic acid, an amino acid that neutralizes excess amounts of ammonia, which makes us tired and sexually disinterested. This nutritious vegetable also contains asparagine, a diuretic that excites the urinary passages. For a truly erotic side dish, try serving creamed asparagus alongside an Italian sausage and a pair of Yukon Gold potatoes.
Rare. Expensive. Mouth-watering. One of the essential food groups of czars and czarinas, "harlot's eggs" contain a high level of phosphorous, a chemical that's essential for the healthy production of love juice. Set the mood by serving this pickled delicacy in a silver caviar presentoir with chilled vodka or champagne. Better still, skip the presentoir and invite your paramour to Tsar Nicoulai Caviar Café (1 Ferry Building #12, SF. 415-288-8630, www.tsarnicoulai.com), the company that pioneered sustainable domestic sturgeon farming back in 1979.
No doubt about it, a chili pepper will fire up your sex drive. Capsaicin, the chemical responsible for hotness, gets the heart pumping, the blood flowing, and the adrenaline coursing through your veins. For the very best of these sexy stimulants, head over to the Farmer's Market at the Ferry Building on Saturdays, where you'll find a dazzling array of fresh peppers at the Tierra Vegetables stand (1 Ferry Building, SF. 707-837-8366; www.tierravegetables.com). For a highly concentrated dose, try their sizzling hot C. Chinese chili jam. Yow!
Legend has it that Montezuma, the Aztec ruler, drank 50 cups of chocolate each day to better serve his harem of 600. Soon after Montezuma offered Cortés a cup, chocolate arrived in Spain, where it was sweetened with cane sugar, vanilla, and cinnamon and promptly denounced by the Spanish clergy. Besides serving up a jolt of caffeine and a taste that everyone loves, chocolate also contains phenylethylamine (PEA), the molecule that makes you feel like you're in love. For "obsessively good" chocolate with a social conscience, head over to TCHO (17 Pier 45, SF. 415-981-0189, www.tcho.com), where you can pair fruity, nutty, and earthy chocolates with a piping cup of Blue Bottle coffee.
If you've ever ventured into a Chinese medicine shop, you've probably passed a barrel or two of a fleshy, tan-colored, striated root called ginseng. This root, according to Chinese herbalists, aids the kidney and the liver, which are the organs responsible for fertility and sexual arousal.