The quest for a lovely Valentine’s Day dinner can be anything but romantic. Chocolate reigns as the ultimate sexy food, but is it really the key to a loving evening? Licorice, pumpkin pie and lavender are all alleged excitement scents, but laying them out by candlelight can make your dinner table look like an herbal candy store. So what really constitutes a meal of edible aphrodisiacs? The New York Times recently reported on the latest attempts to measure sexual response to food. 

Take chocolate. It is tasty, highly pleasurable to eat, and does contain phenylethylamine, which experts point out produces feelings of euphoria. But the NY Times reports that a 130-pound person would have to eat 25 pounds of chocolate in one sitting to significantly alter his or her mood. The next question would be, who feels very sexy after eating her weight in chocolate?

Experts point to chili peppers as another saucy spice. Chili peppers contain capsaicin, which is a chemical that stimulates our nerve endings and makes us sweat — much in the way that sexual activity does. Oysters are rich in zinc, which stimulates testosterone. And ginkgo releases nitric oxide, which helps to widen blood vessels of the genitals and erectile tissue. But the rule of thumb is the same: any healthy person would have to consume huge amounts of, say, oysters to notice a difference.

This brings up another key point in the quest for sexy food. If you have to eat a ton of one thing to feel amorous, odds are you are going to just want a big nap after dinner. Restaurants are notorious for planning expensive, romantic Valentine dinners. Amy Reilly, food expert, refers to the Valentine’s dinner showcased at famed restaurant MidAtlantis. She tells the NY Times that it is “wayyyyy too heavy for a pre-coital celebration.” The dinner has a doughnut dessert, as well as oysters, steak, potatoes, cauliflower gratinée. Reilly explains that this is too much protein and starch to leave its eaters with energy for anything beyond digestion.

But some researchers note that smell can induce emotions that can trigger neurochemical changes. A recent study by the Smell and Taste Research Foundation in Chicago describes a process in which smells become ingrained in our memories by “odor associative learning.” For example, pumpkin pie is a purported sensual smell. But is it because it reminds us of happy Thanksgivings and comfort food? Experts speculate that it may just be a Proustian Effect in its nostalgic recall triggered by odors. One thing is certain — the jury remains out on the perfect romantic dinner to excite all the senses. 

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