BEIRUT: Valentine’s Day dinner offers a perfect excuse to indulge in the art of seduction. Whether a temptress with a golden apple or the lure of six pomegranate seeds, food, lust and love have been entangled since ancient mythology.
The very word aphrodisiac comes from the name Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love. Commonly cited passion boosters include nutrient-rich veggies like asparagus and avocado, warm spices like saffron, chili and cardamom and of course sweet, deeply colored fruits like strawberries.
Most folklore about aphrodisiacs remains just that, as experts say a one-off meal rarely has a measurable physical effect on sexual desire. But a meal can certainly make or break the rest of your Valentine’s night. Experts have offered some suggestions for naturally boosting desire – and possibly performance – through food and herbal concoctions.
“It’s not really physical, but if you work on imagination, creativity and fantasy to invoke desire, you will feel the effect,” says Dr. Sandrine Atallah, a sex therapist based in Beirut.
The key is to use the meal, the ambiance and specific foods that spark the imagination in ways that will boost sexual desire, she says.
Simply eating a strawberry ensures nothing about the night to come. But eating it by candlelight or feeding the strawberry to your partner turns the fruit into a tool for fantasy.
Like the strawberry, other foods become easy gateways for imagination and fantasy because of their obvious shape, smell, color or cultural association with romance and sex, she says. Try sharing a dessert made from chocolate, bananas, pomegranate juice or halved figs – though keep any sexual reference subtle and not ridiculous.
Surprises in the meal will also boost excitement and anticipation, Atallah says. The most obvious way is to steer clear of common meals or flavor combinations you regularly eat together.
“It’s about imagination and creativity, and the effect of the surprise when you do a new recipe or mix in new tastes or spices,” she says.
If you are both brave, using spices and colors creatively can also add an element of surprise. For chocolate desserts, try incorporating Lindt Chili – a dark chocolate with a note of spice – incorporate other savory flavors like basil into dessert or use saffron to infuse a particular dish with a golden yellow color.
The ambiance offers the most powerful tool for making a meal alluring and romantic. Atallah suggests drawing inspiration from popular erotica like “Fifty Shades of Gray.” For example, instead of simply feeding your partner bites of the meal, use a blindfold to create an element of surprise and excitement.
Stimulating a few senses at once may also boost intrigue. Don’t just plop roses at the center of the table, but also cleanse the palate between courses with a rose-water sorbet.
The most important rule to all of this is to know your partner and where to draw the line between exciting and different, and ridiculous and bizarre.
Most importantly, however, keep the meal portions small and light by focusing on veggies and fish instead of other kinds of meat, Atallah says.
Deep fried food or large meals that make you bloated and uncomfortably full will cause the libido to plummet.
There are also more assertive ways to make Valentine’s 2013 an unforgettable night. For those looking for a natural supplement to boost performance, a local root call shirsh al-zallouh has gained international acclaim for rivaling Viagra in its ability to correct erectile dysfunction.
Its arousing properties are extracted by boiling the root in water, straining and drinking the broth like an earthy, ginger tea. The raw root can be purchased at some grocery stores and most herb and spice shops.
There have been a few studies on rats and humans, but Dr. Fouad Helou says the primary reason for shirsh al-zallouh’s effectiveness is its placebo effect.
Helou, a local gynecologist, says issues relating to sexual performance are usually mental blocks related to nervousness or stress. Shirsh al-zallouh is so trusted that those who try it feel calmer, relieving any sex-related stress and aiding arousal, he said.
Dr. Antoine Chehab, a general surgeon, argues there is some scientific basis for believing shirsh al-zallouh will enhance arousal and function. The root plant as well as similar roots like ginseng have been shown to increase blood flow in small tissue, he says.
“These kinds of plants enhance blood flow to the sexual organ, thus improving function,” he says.
Far less talked about is the root tea’s effect on women.
Scientific research shows roots like shirsh al-zallouh are likely to serve women better than men as means of enhancing sexual arousal and function because they contain organic compounds called isoflavones, Chehab says. Isoflavones are similar to hormones in the female body, making shirsh al-zallouh especially effective in menopausal or post-menopausal women in their 40s and 50s.
Herbal boosts are also safer than experimenting with prescription or over-the-counter drugs.
So steep some tea, light some candles, cover your strawberries in chili-infused chocolate and see what comes out of Feb. 14.