A Harte Appetite: The Culinary Roots of Valentine's Day

Feb 11, 2019

They say the way to a man's heart is through his stomach. It's a truth worth contemplating, especially around Valentine's Day. After all, the genius of love and the genius of hunger are the two driving forces behind all living things.

Biblically, as the London Independent remarked, "Food and sex have been bedfellows ever since Adam and Eve tasted the forbidden fruit." The search for foods that foster romance is age old. They're called aphrodisiacs after Aphrodite, who not coincidentally was goddess of both love and crops.

As the Cambridge World History of Food explains: some foods have been labeled aphrodisiacs because of their resemblance to genitalia. Asparagus is a case-in-point. The reputation of other foods is based on mythology. For example, since sparrows were said to be sacred to Aphrodite, their eggs were often prescribed in love potions. Still, other foods were assumed to provoke lust merely because of their remote origin. Thus, even the American potato was seen as an aphrodisiac when introduced to Europe.

Isabel Allende suggests that anything with a French name seems aphrodisiac. The most aphrodisiac is oysters, who's reputation persists from ancient times. Other aphrodisiacs include figs - there's probably a reason that was Cleopatra's favorite fruit - garlic, (as long as both partners consume it) truffles, chocolate - which may be the champion of aphrodisiacs -and champagne.

An old saying has it that whiskey makes a girl stop arguing, beer soothes, gin disarms her, rum cajoles her, but champagne arouses her. Casanova must have thought for he poured the bubbly for all his conquests.

The erotic potential to foods notwithstanding, Allende gives the best advice. She says, "Everything cooked for a lover is sensual."