Food: the greatest aphrodisiac


“If music be the food of love, play on.” Duke Orsino, Twelfth Night by William Shakespeare

Pfff to Shakespeare with his Bohemian notions of wooing with music. Give me oysters, fine wine (technically a foodstuff, right?) and chocolates any day of the week for the way to the heart may be thronged with singing minstrels but it’s paved with nourishment for the body and soul: food.

For centuries, certain foods have been famed as aphrodisiacs not least of which oysters. And while sceptics say it’s psychosomatic, recent research shows that they contain a potent cocktail of amino acids that boost sex hormones as well as high levels of zinc which aids sperm production.

Chocolate meanwhile increases serotin – the happy hormone – and 2007 research by the University of Sussex found that couples who melted chocolate in their mouths and then kissed passionately experienced a longer lasting buzz. Sustained higher heart rates were seen in both women and men.

And if science has yet to convince you, the ultimate guide to love, the Kama Sutra, devoted a whole chapter to foods that stimulate attraction. This ancient Indian text, which means a treatise on pleasure, was, after all, all about couples leading the good life.

Aside from the chemical effects of food on our libido, we quite simply need food and a wooer would be wise to show his or her ability to provide it. As sex bomb Marilyn Monroe put it: “When you don’t have any money, food is the problem. When you have money, it’s sex.”

Mercenary she may be but even Jane Austen’s Elizabeth Bennet, famed for her simplicity and lofty ideals, would surely not have fallen quite so ardently for Fitzwilliam Darcy had he not owned half of Derbyshire. Even his rival Wickham was hardly a penniless busker.

One’s early forays into the world of dating were probably characterised by cinema trips and a trip to a certain fast-food joint for fries and a burger if you were lucky. Many such young suitors have been passed over by an older, more affluent rival who could provide more lavish culinary treats.

As adults, while many succumb to the charm of the artist who shuns materialism in favour of finer goals, when it comes to choosing a partner, the ability to provide goes a long way. Music may thrill the soul but it won’t put shoes on your children’s feet.

This primeval desire for food is core to our being. Without food to sustain us, we cannot achieve any other desires in life. In the words of tanner in George Bernard Shaw’s Man and Superman: “There is no love sincerer than the love of food.”

On to a more romantic note, savouring a fine meal is a luxury these days. Smartphones and social networking sites have all but killed the art of communication. A dinner for two is the perfect setting for lovers to enjoy a real connection without the buzz of our increasingly digital environment.

There’s just something about gazing at your lover across a beautifully laid table, perhaps with candles flickering while you linger over a feast, that speaks volumes in a way all the music in the world cannot. Perhaps it’s just because you have a chance to talk without all that background noise.

“Eating together is hugely important. It’s the whole ritual and an experience that you can share. It’s also a polite and charming way to show your interest,” says Belgian-based chef Alex Weston, owner of catering company LaBritannique.

“A romantic dinner allows you to show off a bit. It also gives you the chance for more intimacy and time with someone to really get to know them. Food can also be suggestive – although it shouldn’t be crude – and a few drinks always helps,” he adds.

Music may provide some of the trappings of romance but did it ease the heartache of the woebegone Duke Orsino in Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night? His eventual wife, the pragmatic Viola would probably have told him to tuck into the banquet and enjoy the music at the same time.