Does Food Get You in the Mood?

In preparation for this Valentine's Eve, I e-mailed 20 people, a mix of colleagues and friends, and asked them point blank: "What turns you on?"

More specifically, I wanted to know, is there a food that gets you in the mood?

Of the 20 I questioned, only five responded with specific preferences, which fell into a few categories -- chocolate, seafood and booze.

"Really good dark chocolate paired with a glass of red wine," is the magic potion for one local online journalist, a SF in her early 30s. "Cabernets tend to work best ... the right chocolate with the right wine is just pure heaven."

Chocolate, and more specifically, "just out-of-the-oven chocolate chip cookies" is the ultimate turn-on for one Washington SM in his early 20s, who's hoping his Valentine will be baking tonight.

One mom in her early 40s praised the sensual qualities of seafood -- and more specifically, "oyster shooters -- an oyster in a shot of Absolut vodka with a dollop of cocktail sauce, squeeze of lemon and down the hatch....ever so sloooowly!"

"I know it sounds cliche," writes one married father of two, "but oysters on the half shell aren't just a myth (speaking from the male perspective). They get the motor running. With respect to his Valentine and the art of seduction, he writes, "champagne helps to grease the skids."

One SF, in her mid-20s, expressed concerns for the pitfalls brought on by the act of eating in front of a lover. "It's gotta be something that makes me look sexy as I eat it," she writes. "Strawberries would be ideal if I didn't end up with a big chunk of red goo on my front teeth. Same with oysters. They're supposedly sexy, but not when I'm fishing bits of shell out my mouth."

For a more academic perspective, I consulted my good friend, Anne, who, for the past year or so has been studying ayurveda, the ancient Indian practice of healing. If revving the engine for reproductive purposes is of interest, Anne suggests "pippali," aka Indian long pepper, a stronger, more pungent relative (and possible forerunner to) black pepper. Anne says that the pippali will strengthen, warm and energize reproductive organs. She found some online at and promises to report back on its er, um, effectiveness.

If pepper is too strong, Anne suggests "a mixture of warm milk, honey and ground coriander," which prompted me to ask if we should all make a beeline to Teaism for a mug of chai to get our groove on. Although she hasn't measured the effects of said chai on the quality of one's sex life, she agreed that a mug of the spicy stuff certainly couldn't hurt.

But even more intriguing were the equal number of responses from those who claim that "food doesn't turn me on." Are these folks sexually repressed naysayers or are they really onto something? Is the aphrodisiac alive and well or is it something in our heads, particularly around February 14?

The sentiment is far from encouraging in "The Oxford Companion to Food," which concludes that "In short, the concept of a truly aphrodisiac food is on a par with that of finding a crock of gold at the end of the rainbow."

A more conflicted argument comes from the late great food doyenne M.F.K. Fisher in her "Alphabet for Gourmets." Although she offers a detailed menu for seducing a man in the chapter entitled "W is for Wanton," (To wit: "Good Scotch and water for him, and a very dry Martini for me. A hot soup made of equal parts of clam juice, chicken broth, and dry white wine, heated just to the simmer."), she also acknowledges "that there is no true whip to love except the need itself, which needs no whip. That is, if two people wish, hope, plan, to be together, they need have no fear of what they must eat first, and indeed no interest in it."

The idea that aphrodisiacs are as personal as our choices in mates comes from food writer Bunny Crumpacker, in "The Sex Life of Food." And she argues, what's wrong with that?

"Aphrodisiacs titillate, as does pornography," writes Crumpacker, "but reality is both less boring and more erotic. If we link certain foods and smells with better lovemaking, it tells more about us than about the food. Food excites because of the psyche, not the soma, because food and sex are inexorably, subliminally, paired from our very beginnings."

When I pushed a dear friend, who's attending my wedding, why she misses the connection between food and sex, she countered with yet another piece to this culinary love puzzle. Although food in and of itself may not blow her skirt up, she (and her husband) consider the act of cooking HOT STUFF.

"Several times I've been cooking, and I had to turn off the stove because someone gets all hot and bothered," she writes. So is cooking the equivalent of culinary foreplay - and is that more erotic than the actual act?

With that new nugget in play, I went straight to the object of my affection and asked Mister Groom straight up: What's more erotic -- watching me cook or eating my food?

He answered without hesitation: "Watching you cook -- because you are passionate about cooking and it's exciting to watch you exercise that passion."

No matter how you feel about aphrodisiacs, perhaps we can all agree that food -- cooked, raw, bought, served and shared -- is an expression of passion and one we all can use on our plates, each and every day.

Now it's your turn to dish on either side of the aphrodisiac buffet. What's your fancy feast? Share in the comments area below, or talk to me today at noon, for an hour of What's Cooking.

By Kim ODonnel |  February 13, 2007; 11:06 AM ET Kitchen Musings , Valentine's Day
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Please email us to report offensive comments.

I was so tickled to find my name and the quotes in the middle of your story!! Your column has given me a lot of pleasure - your writing as well as your recipes! Many, many thanks for including "The Sex Life of Food" - and happy Valentine's Day to you and to the groom as well.

Posted by: Bunny Crumpacker | February 13, 2007 12:47 PM

One of Erica Jong's books (Fear of Flying, maybe) contains an erotic scene that includes peeling and slicing an avocado. I read the book almost 20 years, but avocados still make my toes curl.

Posted by: Kay | February 13, 2007 2:09 PM

Champagne and oysters.

Posted by: Anonymous | February 13, 2007 2:16 PM

I don't think it's the food. It's the setting and the person you're with. I had a friend who prepared a very 'spur of the moment' dinner of rice, sauteed chicken with rosemary, and white wine. It worked for me. Now every time I have chicken with rosemary or white wine I'm reminded of that wonderful man.

Another is the smell of fresh coffee brewing. For that reason I don't go into Starbucks anymore! However, I do some sniffing around the coffee section of the supermarket with the bean grinders and get euphoric high from that.

Posted by: Southern Maryland | February 13, 2007 2:26 PM

It's definitely the setting and attitude, not the food. But champagne doesn't hurt!

Posted by: Alice | February 13, 2007 6:51 PM

Congratulations on all you have done to make your wedding great.
I need you to help me. very willing to use the dead mom mom died in 1986. She made amazing hungarian goulash....please, please someone give me a recipe that WORKS. Honestly, it has been over 20 years.\I miss my mom (she was AMAZING) and her recipe is gone so PLEASE help me

Posted by: Please help me | February 13, 2007 11:26 PM

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