Oysters may have initially gained their status as sex aids at a time when zinc was deficient in daily diets, the Albertsons and other experts say. Increasing zinc could have improved overall health, leading to increased sex drive. Common wisdom holds that to achieve the full libidinous effect, oysters must be eaten raw, perhaps accompanied by a mignonette sauce with shallots and red-wine vinegar or a chili based sauce.

The search for the foods of love has followed a number of fairly predictable paths. In many cultures, the sex organs of highly procreative animals have achieved an esteemed status, as have foods that simply resemble genitalia, such as mandrake root and ginseng. This same "law of similarity" could also account for the notion that spicy foods such as chilies and curries perk up the appetite for love because they raise the heart rate and often cause sweating.

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The Mystery of Attraction

Some foods have achieved their randy reputations simply because of their rarity and mystery. Before chocolate became commonly available, it was considered the supreme food for seduction. In India, home of that famous manual of love, the Kama Sutra, chocolate has been called the "nourishment of the Gods". Chocolate does contain methylxanthines that stimulates the transmission and conduction of nerve impulses. It also contains theobromine, a substance related to caffeine that creates a feeling of satisfaction. Even today, a box of Godiva or Kirchmayr dainties can cause many hearts to flutter.

Along with chocolate, vanilla improves the central nervous system and its odor has a stimulating effect on the nerves. Licorice also has a solid amorous background, backed up by some contemporary research. A study by the Chicago Smell and Taste Treatment and Research Foundation found that the smell of black licorice significantly increases blood flow, but red licorice cannot make the same claims.

Caviar, those pricey little fish eggs, also merits consideration, along with truffles, those $400 plus-an-ounce mushrooms hunted by specially trained pigs. Caviar is said to nourish and enhance nerve cells, which help in heightening romantic feelings. Fish eggs are rich in vitamins and contain phosphorus. Caviar's powers are reinforced with the addition of vodka. Truffles can stimulate and sensitize the skin to touch. Additionally, their fragrant musty smell is reputed to be similar to human sex hormones.

Tomatoes were once considered the ultimate aphrodisiac, as were cucumbers, carrots, and celery. Because of their suggestive shape, carrots in particular have been associated with stimulation since ancient times. Early Middle Eastern royalty used them as an aid to seduction, and in Asia, carrots are often seen as a substitute for ginseng. Celery is known to contain androsterone, a male hormone capable of stimulating the sexual arousal of females. Perhaps you should keep that in mind the next time you prepare a salad for the family.

Also heeding the"law of similarity", the long slender stalks of asparagus have earned it the reputation of a food of love. Its aphrodisiac qualities were celebrated in 19th-century France where it was decreed that bridegrooms should be served three courses of asparagus at their prenuptial dinner.

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