A number of...foods have been claimed to be aphrodisiacs. At one time this quality was even ascribed to the tomato. Reflect on that when you are next preparing the family salad.

JANE GRIGSON (1928-90)


Which ones work?

At various different times and places almost all foods have been considered aphrodisiacs. As well as the classics of oysters and champagne, the list includes Brussels sprouts, spinach, cabbage, all meat, all hot foods and all rude-looking foods. In fact, the QI elves found in research that googling any food with the word 'aphrodisiac' seems to return a positive result – in other words, there seems to be no foodstuff which is not credited by somebody with an aphrodisiac effect. The only few which might not be reputed as aphrodisiacs are those few which are supposed to be actual anti-aphrodisiacs – foods which put one off sex. One example of this is lily roots, which monks and nuns in the Middle Ages ate to ensure they remained chaste.
Lettuce was one of the biggest love potions in the ancient world. The Ancient Egyptians used it as a fertility drug and aphrodisiac – perhaps because of its tall, suggestive shape, or the sexual quality of its white milky sap. This was wild lettuce, the racier, spicier cousin of modern varieties.
It's hard to know which supposed aphrodisiacs work and which don't, because of a hefty placebo effect, but a review in 2011 indicated that some foods including ginseng and saffron might have a small effect. There is no evidence that chocolate, champagne or oysters works as an aphrodisiac other than as a placebo or, in the case of the champagne, as a disinhibitor. 

Quick-fire pick-me-ups

  • The ancient Roman doctor Galen believed that any food that produced flatulence was an aphrodisiac. This was believed until the 18th century.
  • In Elizabethan times, stewed prunes were so highly regarded as aphrodisiacs that they were served for free in brothels.
  • St. Jerome forbade nuns to eat beans because of the widespread belief that they 'excited the genitals' of women.
  • Frog juice – a juice made by putting frogs in a blender – was a traditional Peruvian aphrodisiac.
  • Pliny the Elder recommends 'a man's urine in which a lizard has been drowned' as an aphrodisiac. If you don’t have a lizard, you can use 'the right section of a vulture's lung worn as an amulet in a crane's skin'.

The Ancient Greeks used carrots as aphrodisiacs.

In 1994 the Pentagon looked at the idea of making an aphrodisiac bomb so enemy soldiers would fall in love with each other. 

Powerful Potatoes

After being introduced from the Americas, potatoes quickly got a reputation as a cure-all – they could supposedly cure anything from diarrhoea to tuberculosis. They were also, supposedly, a powerful aphrodisiac. In The Merry Wives of Windsor, one of Shakespeare’s weaker comedies, the character Falstaff gives a list of aphrodisiacs: kissing comfits (confectioneries), eryngoes (the candied roots of sea holly), and potatoes. He says, 'Let the sky rain potatoes; let it thunder, to the tune of Greensleeves, hail kissing-comfits, and snow eryngoes'.
The erotic reputation of the humble spud was given weight by the observation that after it became a major food crop in Ireland, the population grew rapidly. Nobody noticed the fact that it wasn’t actually an aphrodisiac – what was actually happening, of course, was that fewer children were starving to death, giving the impression that it improved the birth rate. 

Casanova claimed that he sometimes ate fifty oysters for breakfast.


Power is the ultimate aphrodisiac.

SAUL BELLOW (1915-2005)

All a writer has to do to get a woman is to say he's a writer. It's an aphrodisiac.