Love is all around us – not just in our fingers and toes, but even in items you might not have considered, such as insects and salad. Or so it is believed. Many aphrodisiacs are considered as such because of their resemblance to sexual organs, the qualities of the animal, symbolic connections to fertility and romance or, most rarely it seems, chemical properties and effects. Here are 10 unusual aphrodisiacs from around the world – you may not want to try all of them at home.
Ants. Not just any ant, but atta laevigata, a species of leafcutter ant found between Columbia and Paraguay. Known in those parts as hormiga culona (large-bottomed ant), they have been eaten for hundreds of years, and because of the supposed aphrodisiac qualities of the queens, are often given as wedding gifts. However, the regular harvesting of these romantic ants, among other factors, has led to their decline. It’s probably best to stick to homewares and money when it comes to wedding presents.
Chicken fetus. Chicken embryos, or balut, are a delicacy native to the Philippines and also commonly consumed in Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam. Apparently eating balut “hardens” men’s knees (yes, knees), which is a good thing. Generally, across cultures, eggs (fetus or not) are regarded as having aphrodisiac qualities because of their link with reproduction.
Goat soup. “Mannish water”, a soup made from goat parts including the head, brains and scrotum, has been popular for at least 300 years in Jamaica. It is supposed to make you “man enough”, or as strong as a bull, hence the former name. Grooms are traditionally served the dish on their wedding night (lucky brides). Similarly, cow cod soup is another popular aphrodisiac in Jamaica, and comprises cow penis (the “cod”), cooked with bananas and white rum.
Green M&Ms. What is it about the green ones? Since the 1970s, in the US, rumors have circulated that eating green M&Ms puts one in the mood for love. Mars, the company behind M&Ms, picked up on this and in 1997 introduced a sexy, female mascot for the green candies; she has a husky voice and a penchant for innuendo. In 2008, they even brought out special bags filled only with green M&Ms, claiming green to be “The New Color of Love”. Actually, although red certainly dominates all that’s romantic, green had a claim to love for eons, with its connection to spring, rebirth and witchcraft – a powerful mix!
Jewelry. You know that pretty necklace you were thinking of giving your sweetheart? You might consider crushing it instead. And then eating it. Pearls, rubies, gold dust and agate are all purported to stimulate desire and enhance attractiveness when consumed. Cleopatra – she who seduced Julius Caesar and Mark Anthony – is said to have dissolved pearls in vinegar and drunk the mixture, which likely popularized the concept.
Lettuce. Those healthy green leaves that populate your salad dishes don’t just aid your digestion; they can also boost your sex drive. At least the Ancient Egyptians thought so, based on the fact lettuce was a popular offering to Min, the god of fertility and sexuality. However, the Romans considered lettuce to have the opposite effect, and dampen ardor, because of the plant’s mild sedative and painkilling effects. In 2005, an Italian scientist theorized that both the Egyptians and the Romans were right – it all depended on what part of the plant you used.
Puffer fish. What could be sexier than a brush with death? This seems to be the thinking behind the purported aphrodisiac powers of puffer fish, or fugu in Japan. This ugly fish has a high content of tetrodotoxin, which is considered more than 1,000 times deadlier than cyanide. Only specially licensed chefs who have studied the art of fugu cooking for years can safely prepare the fish – and even then there’s no guarantee. Personally, I’d prefer to flirt with my date than with danger – and for my last supper to include something other than poisoned fish.
Spanish Fly. A beetle, not a fly, that is found between southern Europe and central Asia, and has a lengthy, dramatic history as an aphrodisiac. It was used by the scheming wife of Augustus Caesar to blackmail guests and the Marquis de Sade in the 18th century to spice up an orgy. The Spanish Fly contains cantharidin, a poisonous, potentially fatal, chemical compound that, when consumed, can irritate the urinary tract, leading to genital swelling that lasts for hours. In other words, an ancient Viagra that’s probably not worth dying for.
Urine has been a respected part of medicine in many cultures, for thousands of years. It’s purported to have many health benefits, from antiseptic to moisturizer. The romantic bonuses likely come from the hormones present, including muramyl dipeptide, a compound that has a similar effect to seratonin. And that doesn’t just go for human urine, apparently. In Zimbabwe, baboon pee is mixed with beer, and in India, cow urine can be considered a powerful stimulant when drunk straight. I’ll have mine on ice with a twist of lime, please.
Whale vomit. More commonly referred to as ambergris, a waxy, gray substance formed in the stomachs of whales. Ambergris, which has a sweet, earthy odor, is a traditional fixing ingredient in musk perfumes, and is meant to release pheromones when applied to the skin. It also supposedly enhances the flavor of food and wine, and has medicinal qualities. Unfortunately, you’ll have to pay US$20 per gram if you want to put it to the test. Love doesn’t always come cheap, you know…