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Valentine’s Day Advice: Don’t Count on Oysters, Champagne

February 14, 1987

Undated (AP) _ Wining and dining your sweetheart this Valentine’s Day is fine, but don’t be surprised if oysters, caviar, champagne and other mythicized aphrodisiacs fail to generate romantic results, according to experts on food and love.

Chocolate, in fact, could prove downright disastrous.

″I really wonder whether giving chocolate for Valentine’s Day is really the best type of gift if one wants to pursue any type of intense romantic affair. The high fat and the high sugar content may make you very sleepy,″ said Judith Wurtman, a research scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Department of Nutrition and Food Sciences.

″If you’re dealing in a situation where the woman is being pursued by the man, it might slow her down theoretically enough that she can be caught,″ she said.

″It’s a matter of dose. You don’t want to give her so much that she falls asleep right away.″

Despite centuries of faithful practice, there’s absolutely no scientific basis to love charms and potions, experts say.

″It’s all in your head and in your heart,″ said Ruth Westheimer, radio and cable television’s celebrated sex therapist known as ″Dr. Ruth.″

″Now I’m not saying that some strawberries dipped in whipped cream or some champagne or some good chocolate can’t be pleasurable,″ she said, giggling. ″But I’m saying the only aphrodisiac needed is in your brain.″

Even Casanova’s own personal favorite, the oyster, is said to be sorely lacking in passion-provoking powers.

″From a chemical standpoint, there’s no reason why oysters should be any more aphrodisiac than toothpaste,″ said Marian Childs, associate professor of medicine and nutrition at the University of Washington.

As long as men and women have longed for love, they have yearned for ways to ease passion’s process.

The search for culinary delights has led from the mundane to the mad: garlic, honey, artichokes, figs, pomegranates, caviar, herbal teas, bird’s nest soup and even deer musk glands.

Today, aphrodisiacs abound. In Jackson Hole, Wyo., for example, hundreds gather every May to bid on antlers shed by elk. South Korean businessmen regularly snap up the majority of antlers and grind them into an aphrodisiac powder.

Like most local folks, Carol Dahlen, marketing director for the Jackson Hole Chamber of Commerce, doesn’t put much stock in elk antlers’ desire- inducing abilities.

Nevertheless, she said, laughing, ″I’ve always wanted to try it.″

The difficulty in obtaining elk antlers probably explains much of their appeal, according to Fred Parks, an Allentown, Pa., restaurateur and author of ″The Celebrated Oysterhouse Cookbook.″

″Most things considered delicacies are associated with some type of aphrodisiac or mental power, and those things are hard to get,″ he said. ″The tomato was called a passion fruit ... until it became very commonplace.″

Oysters, which Parks recommends ″raw, as in nature,″ are recommended by many.

″You’re left after dining on oysters with a very light feeling. You have energies to pursue other endeavors,″ Parks said.

Although scientists scoff at aphrodisiacs, studies have indeed indicated a relationship between foods and moods.

An MIT research team reported in the December issue of The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition that obese individuals craving carbohydrates were happier and less depressed two hours after filling up on carbohydrate-rich snacks.

Those who did not crave carbohydrates were more depressed after consuming cookies, crackers and candy, according to the MIT team.

Large amounts of carbohydrates, the scientists hypothesize, alter the levels of a chemical in the brain known as serotonin, which is believed to regulate a variety of moods including depression and sleepiness.

″Foods in general tend to be very subtle kinds of modulators in behavior,″ said Harris Lieberman, who conducted the study with Wurtman and Beverly Chew.

Still, when it comes to aphrodisiacs, ″I suspect there isn’t a lot of truth to it,″ he said.

With so little credibility, why do the myths persist?

″It’s perception,″ said Bill Young, assistant director of the Masters & Johnson Institute in St. Louis, which receives as many as 20 queries a day on aphrodisiacs.

″They’ve had one or two experiences where they’ve had a wonderful meal. While associating the romance that follows with the meal, it may have been the interaction of the couple over the meal, especially a leisurely meal,″ he said.

Westheimer and others acknowledge there’s nothing wrong with a little food for naughty thought.

″Don’t take away the myth,″ she said. ″If people really believe, let them use it.″

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