To kick off a flurry of fun content we’ve got in honor of Valentine’s Day, we sat down with Deborah A. Levine, author of the just-released book Love Miscellany: Everything You Always Wanted to Know About the Many Ways We Celebrate Romance and Passion. A collection of letters, quotations, and fun facts, Love Miscellany answers questions such as which aphrodisiacs — if any — really work, why chocolate is a symbol of love, and much more.
In Love Miscellany, you dig into the topic of aphrodisiacs. We’re dying to know — do they really exist, technically speaking?
The idea that eating certain foods can enhance our sexual desire or potency has been around for thousands of years and exists in some form in most cultures. When I was researching this chapter in the book, I was amazed by the variety of unusual (by American standards) things people eat in the name of getting it on. (Deer and tiger penises, anyone?) As much as eating a slippery oyster or the silky flesh of an avocado may make us feel turned on, and despite extensive scientific research, however, so far there’s no conclusive evidence that anything we consume causes true sexual arousal. So, technically speaking, no, aphrodisiacs do not exist.
Even though there isn’t enough evidence to prove that aphrodisiacs are a real thing, why is it that food is so closely tied to Valentine’s Day?
Whether or not eating a luscious chocolate-dipped strawberry scientifically turns us on, there’s no denying that food and love (or lust) are inextricably linked. What do we do when we want to show someone we think they’re special? We take them out to dinner. Romantic ambiance, good wine, candlelight and a sumptuous meal can definitely put you in the mood, no matter what science says about it. Like I say in the book, according to psychologists, the power of suggestion is the most potent aphrodisiac there is. Anyone who’s ever been on a great date knows that sharing a romantic meal with someone you’re attracted to can be a real turn-on, whether you’re eating truffles and caviar or burgers and fries.
How did chocolate become irrevocably linked with Valentine’s Day in American culture? Where did that even start?
This was one of the most surprising things I learned while writing Love Miscellany. When the first settlers came to America, they had already been celebrating Valentine’s Day in England for over 100 years — so Valentine’s Day has been a part of American culture from the very beginning. And Milton S. Hershey introduced America to the chocolate bar in 1895. But it wasn’t until the end of World War II that it became impossible to think of Valentine’s Day without thinking of chocolate — and we have the Department of Defense to thank for that. Chocolate bars were included in soldiers’ rations, and they were such a big hit that chocolate sales and consumption went way up after the war. Giving gifts of candy was already a Valentine’s Day custom, and chocolate quickly replaced other boxed goodies to become America’s most popular Valentine’s Day treat.
What are some other foods, especially offbeat ones, that are associated with celebrating Valentine’s Day in other cultures?
How Valentine’s Day is celebrated in other cultures and countries was the topic I had the most fun writing about in the book. I loved learning about all of the different ways people show their love for each other all over the world and, of course, this often translated into food. In many Middle Eastern cuisine, rose water is a common dessert ingredient, and I happen to love it, too. One of my favorite rose water recipes that we included in the book is Rose Water Rice Pudding — it’s both exotic and comforting at the same time. Another fun bit of trivia I discovered is that in the 19th century tomatoes were thought to be aphrodisiacs and were often called “love apples.” Elaborate Victorian valentines actually sometimes included illustrations of tomatoes! There’s a recipe for a deliciously rich Love Apple Soup in the book.
Are there any dishes that you find particularly romantic when you’re enjoying an evening out with your husband?
Is it cheating if I say a glass or two of good wine rarely fails to leave us feeling romantic? [Ed. note: Never!] We’re also both big oyster fans, and while I can’t say that I find them especially arousing, they have been on the menu for many of our most memorable meals. On our honeymoon on the Dalmatian Coast in Croatia, we had dinner one evening in a little town called Mali Ston that’s famous for its oysters. We ate in an outdoor restaurant that was basically a boat tethered to a pier, and we were served oysters that had been literally brought up from the sea onto the boat as we watched. I’ve never eaten an oyster that fresh before or since. The maitre ‘d also gave us complimentary shots of some kind of incredibly strong liqueur, so I have no memory anything else we ate that evening!
Love Miscellany: Everything You Always Wanted to Know About the Many Ways We Celebrate Romance and Passion is available for purchase at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and at your favorite independent bookseller.
And, check back for Valentine’s Day videos on aphrodisiacs, sexy and unsexy foods, PDA in restaurants, and more as we prepare for February 14th!