You read one time that asparagus was an aphrodisiac. So last Valentine's Day, you bought five pounds of it, cooked it for your date, and then waited for a magical rush of heart-pumping, hair-standing lust that transforms two ordinary people into Scarlett and Rhett—or better yet, Kim and Ray Jay. Did it work? Probably not. And if it did, kudos, but it wasn't because of the asparagus. That's not quite how aphrodisiac foods work, says Kantha Shelke, a food scientist and spokesperson with the Institute of Food Technologists. We live in the Viagra culture, she says. "People expect instant gratification, and I don't believe any food can give you that."
Aphrodisiac foods aren't magic potions that immediately turn you on. They're foods that typically do three things: excite your senses, open your blood vessels, and make you feel comfortable and focused, Shelke says. Take a cup of hot tea. In terms of senses, it's got a lot going on. It's warm to the touch, and provides moist, rising steam, along with vibrant smells of added spices. Tea also gets the blood moving (to all your parts), and it makes you slow down, feel good, and focus on the matter (or lover) at hand.
Shelke shares another, somewhat surprising Western aphrodisiac: pumpkin pie. Your senses will dig the bright color, creamy texture, rich taste, and spicy aromas. As a plant-based food, it opens blood vessels, and, Shelke adds, "It always conjures happy memories and a feeling of comfort and safety, and that's usually when you perform the best."
Given these three properties of aphrodisiac foods, U.S. News compiled the following tips for serving up your most sizzling Valentine's Day meal yet.
Get into the ritual. Bananas are an aphrodisiac, not only because of their suggestive shape (which Eastern cultures seem to appreciate more), but because they're rich in potassium and B vitamins, which can be helpful for sex. But who's ever gotten in the mood by unpeeling and biting down—gorilla-style? Flambé the bananas with brandy and a little bit of caramel, Shelke says. "It's all a ritual that your mind associates with love-making."
Respect your senses. Red peppers and other spicy foods can get us in the mood by heating us up from the inside, says Colleen Patrick-Goudreau, a chef and author of several vegan cookbooks. Try a spicy red bell pepper soup, she suggests, which not only heats you up, but has a seductive creamy texture and looks like bright, hot lava. And you could go even simpler. "Any fruit that has seeds oozing out of them is sexy," she says. Consider the bright colors, curved shapes, and succulent, juicy insides of, say, apricots and mangos.
Stick to healthy foods. "Notice they don't say bacon is an aphrodisiac," Shelke points out. "What it comes down to is how you perform in bed, so what you're looking out for is your health." We're going for foods that increase blood circulation—rather than clogging you up. Avoid greasy meats and foods that can slow you down, like cheeses, Shelke says. And don't "douse the fire" by serving foods that are hard to digest, Goudreau adds. "Beans might not be the best idea because you don't know how they're going to affect someone."
Don't drink too much. "While a small amount of alcohol can go a long way to remove your inhibitions and get you into the act, too much of it can be horrible," Shelke says. Don't booze too hard and fall asleep midway through your date—or worse, your Valentine's Day sex. Alcohol doesn't exactly do wonders for performance, so pace yourself. If you're drinking champagne, slow down and focus on the senses. "With champagne, it's not the alcohol that makes us feel sexy, but the bubbly effects in our mouths," Goudreau says.