When Jennifer Marshall wanted to create a romantic evening for her husband, she knew just what to do — she whipped up a supper of natural aphrodisiac seafood. Mussels, fish and even lobster made her menu.
"It's the green stuff in the lobster. You're supposed to eat it and it's supposed to be an aphrodisiac," said the 27-year-old massage therapist from Cape Coral. "It sparked some sparks. My husband and I had a good time."
That green stuff is called tomalley, part of the liver of the lobster. It's just one of dozens of meats, fruits, vegetables, nuts and spices believed to function as a natural aphrodisiac, producing amorous effects on the people who eat them.
Since ancient times, men and women have downed dishes of caviar and consumed carafes of wine, all to rev up the romance and passion in their lives. Today, many of these legendary foods are available at your nearest grocery store or farmer's market.
But is there any truth to the legends? Maybe, maybe not.
"I've not seen anything that's proved to be an aphrodisiac in any of these things, but I'm not saying it doesn't work," said Shirlee Passau-Buck, a sex therapist who practices in Lee and Collier counties.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration agrees. A 1996 FDA report said there is no proof that any food items truly act as an aphrodisiac. It cited a lack of formal studies as a major stumbling block to uncovering the truth behind aphrodisiacs. Another is what some call the "placebo effect."
"I think people can get ideas in their heads... and swear that it works," said Passau-Buck. "If they totally believe it, then it will work." Long ago, many of these beliefs came from something called the "law of similarity." In other words, foods that looked sexual must be sexual. That's why some societies have touted veggies such as carrots and cucumbers as aphrodisiacs.
Others argue there are definite physiological benefits to certain foods, benefits that can be realized in the bedroom.
"The modern understanding (of aphrodisiacs) is really what we know about good nutrition," said Ellen Albertson, co-host of the Boston-area radio show "The Cooking Couple" and an expert on aphrodisiacs. "There are a lot of nutrients that are important for your overall vitality and your sexual vitality."
The ancient world believed seafood had aphrodisiac qualities because Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love was born of sea foam.
(Aphrodite = aphrodisiac. Get it?)
Today, the scientific world knows that most seafood is very nutritious and full of high-quality protein. A diet of seafood can lead to better health and, in turn, better sexual performance.
Still, would-be lovers should be cautious of some aphrodisiac claims. Some marketers sell "love potions" that have never been tested on humans. Like any dietary supplement, there's little regulation and some could be dangerous. The FDA points to the sad story of "Spanish Fly." This aphrodisiac made from dried beetles did indeed have some effects, including a rush of blood to the sex organs. It also led to burns in the mouth and throat and occasional deaths.
Instead, medical experts say if you're having sexual problems, it's better to seek modern treatment rather than looking to likely myths for a solution.