Do Aphrodisiacs Actually Work? 9 Popular Aphrodisiacs

Words: Robyn Samuels

Oysters, chocolate and watermelon. What do all of these things have in common, you ask? Well, apart from being delicious, they’re also aphrodisiacs.

Before the invention of ‘blue pills’ and stimulants, ancient Romans and Egyptians used aphrodisiacs to increase virility and potency. Still, the question remains – do aphrodisiacs actually work? Is it worth spending a fortune on oysters and pine nuts?

What are aphrodisiacs?

Aphrodisiacs are food or drug-administered substances that increase libido and improve potency and sexual pleasure. The term ‘aphrodisiac’ was named after Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love.

The Discovery of Aphrodisiacs

People have long used medicinal plants and aphrodisiac foods – before pharmacological drugs existed – for traditional healing rituals and the treatment of illnesses. The same approach was used when people sought natural ways to treat reproductive issues, such as reduced libido, erectile dysfunction, compulsive sexual behaviours, and more. Procreation was one of the main motivations for using aphrodisiacs back then, as people wanted to increase their fertility and potency, so that they could essentially ‘go forth and multiply’.

With the advent of ‘Big Pharma’, Pfizer created Viagra (sildenafil) in 1989, which caused a big splash and was widely advertised. Taglines like ‘because she will bring you breakfast in the morning’, ‘put the spice back into your love life’, ‘rise to the occasion’ and other bloodless gags graced magazines and pamphlets in doctors’ waiting rooms. However, this didn’t stop people from using aphrodisiacs – possibly because it was easier to get watermelon at the grocery store than awkwardly ask their doctor for a Viagra prescription…?

But how effective are aphrodisiacs?

Scientists have reported that certain foods can have effects of arousal, either through increasing sex hormone production or stimulating blood flow in the body. Aphrodisiacs can also act as a placebo – the mere thought of the food being an aphrodisiac could make one believe it is and result in an increased libido. Nonetheless, they have been used for centuries and still today.

9 Popular Aphrodisiac Foods

These are some of the most popular types of aphrodisiacs and their benefits. Some of them live in your fridge, while others are more ‘exotic’.


Avos have been hard at work since before the inception of avo toast. This nutrient-rich fruit is filled with healthy fats and vitamin E. The ancient Aztecs also believed it was an aphrodisiac. The Aztec word for avocado, ‘ahuacatl’ actually translates to ‘testicles’. Avocados are also rich in folic acid, vitamins B6 and 9, which are great for boosting energy levels and increasing hormone production.

Try these Chocolate Avocado Mousse Tartlets for a double dose of aphrodisiacs.


Most associated with Mediterranean cuisine, this fragrant herb was once regarded as a symbol of love and fertility and has been used as an aphrodisiac for centuries. Roman naturalist, Pliny, especially believed that the seeds were even more effective than the leaves. Basil is rich in antioxidants and arginine compounds, which act as vasodilators and improve blood flow.

Try this recipe for Gnocchi in a Creamy Basil Pesto Sauce.


Those Pfizer ads may have been on to something. Whether you want to invite spice into your love life or enjoy punishing your taste buds, then chilli is the way to go. Chillies contain the active ingredient capsaicin, which makes them hot as hell. That indescribable high one gets when eating chillies occur as a result of the tongue nerve endings being stimulated, which releases epinephrine and causes your heart rate to increase. Eating chillies is an extreme sport; we wouldn’t recommend eating a whole bunch to test whether this aphrodisiac works, as it might give you ‘the runs’, which is the furthest thing from sexy.

If you can handle the heat, try one of these spicy food recipes or check out our chilli guide.


food health trends and global trade
Besides oysters, chocolate is one of the most sensual foods. Chocolate contains phenylethylamine, better known as ‘the love drug’. This organic compound stimulates the human central nervous system and releases endorphins. If you want to test this one out, milk chocolate won’t cut it.  Get the good stuff – dark chocolate that contains 75 percent cacao or higher. Enjoy a couple of pieces  for a healthy dose of magnesium and caffeine (another aphrodisiac).


Oysters are arguably the most popular aphrodisiac. They are rich in antioxidants, magnesium and especially zinc – an essential element in testosterone production and spermatogenesis (sperm production).

Did you know? Giacomo Casanova, the 18th-century Venetian better known by his last name, ‘Casanova’ apparently ate up to fifty fresh oysters every day for breakfast to increase his stamina – sounds like quite the diet, but mostly a classic case of overcompensation.

Slug back a couple of these Oysters with Lime & Watermelon Granita or Gibson Cocktail Oysters with Lime.

Pine Nuts

Similar to oysters, pine nuts are high in zinc, which is vital for sperm and testosterone production. Interestingly, pine nuts are called ‘vegan oysters’ because both aphrodisiacs boast zinc. Pine nuts also contain many phytochemicals that promote arousal; they’re also a great source of iron.

Try this Lemon Labneh with Roasted Tomatoes, Pine Nuts & Toasted Pita.


Rocket or ‘arugula’ is another popular aphrodisiac. These leafy greens are part of the Brassicaceae family and are well known for their distinct, peppery flavour. Ancient Egyptians and Romans were particularly fond of rocket and called it a ‘potent aphrodisiac’ during the first century. Rocket has incredible detoxifying properties; arugula leaf extract contains phytonutrients that are high in antioxidants, and are thought to increase testosterone levels, libido, potency and fertility.

The Romans believed rocket to be a highly effective aphrodisiac, so much so that it was prohibited from being grown in the monastery gardens of the Roman Catholic Church.

Try this Chilli Rocket Pesto Lamb Chops with Yoghurt.


healthy salmon recipes
Salmon is filled with health benefits. The mineral-rich seafood is high in omegas 3 and 9; these fatty acids are crucial for hormone production of oestrogen, progesterone and testosterone. Eating this aphrodisiac could also lead to an increased libido.

Try these delicious salmon recipes.


Besides being super hydrating, improving heart health and reducing inflammation, watermelon is also an aphrodisiac. This summer fruit is packed with citrulline, an amino acid that helps relax the blood vessels, meaning improved blood circulation and possibly increased arousal. To actually reap the aphrodisiac benefits of watermelon, you’d have to consume a bunch of it. The active ingredient, citrulline, is mostly concentrated in the watermelon rind that usually gets discarded.

Instead of throwing your watermelon rinds away, try these Oysters with Pickled Watermelon Rind or one of these wonderful watermelon recipes.

Want more? Explore these unique Valentine’s Day traditions from around the world

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