Do Aphrodisiacs Really Work? I Tried 10 for the Sake of Sexy Science

These are the foods that actually get you in the mood.


By Amanda Kohr

Published on February 13, 2024

“Good food leads to good sex,” said the late culinary icon Anthony Bourdain. I think many, myself included, would agree. Food and sex are two of life’s most beloved pleasures. One of the most classic “would you rather” questions asks if you’d pick food over sex, or vice versa. So, it’s no surprise the two are often intertwined, perhaps most sensually in the form of aphrodisiacs. 

The word aphrodisiac (which stems from Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of sex and love) alone is enough to conjure the erotic. When I hear it, I taste the electric brine of a raw oyster, pomegranates dripping with pink juice, or the velvety feel of dark chocolate on the tongue. In recent years, we’ve associated aphrodisiacs with Valentine’s Day classics: Champagne and seafood, chocolate-dipped strawberries and whipped cream. Some aphrodisiacs, like maca and ginseng, have gained notoriety in the wellness scenes, and now come in the form of $20 smoothies from Erewhon.

But “foods that get you in the mood” have a history as rich as their flavor. While today we like to justify our aphrodisiacs with science-backed research, historians have noted that our ancestors had all sorts of explanations for why certain foods carried a sense of eroticism. 

“I like to divide aphrodisiacs broadly, and into six categories,” says Dr. Ursula Janssen, archaeologist, culinary historian, and author. The first is shape analogy; think foods, like oysters or asparagus that resemble male or female anatomy. The second is high-protein foods, which historically promised strength through fertility. Third are foods that follow the philosophy of the humors, which dominated Western medicine from antiquity to modern times. For example, flavors like pepper and ginger that are literally “hot.” The fourth category is comprised of exotic and rare foods—luxury was associated with seduction. The fifth is the idea of transferring power from one creature to another (think rhino horns), and the sixth category is dedicated to any foods that might strongly awaken the senses, like cinnamon or peppermint. 

Of course, a curious deviant like me is sitting here wondering: so which of these things actually work? It’s hard to know; there’s very little research on aphrodisiacs, which means often, we have to try for ourselves and find out… which is exactly what I did. Using a combination of history, science, and pure intrigue, I chose ten aphrodisiacs and put them to the test. (All of them are rated on a “horniness” scale of 1-10 because I’m a freak who likes a system.)


Asparagus is one of the foods that is supposedly an aphrodisiac because of how it looks when you eat it. (I’ve personally never seen a penis that looked like an asparagus spear, but I’m not here to body shame.) I roasted my asparagus with olive oil and a little salt, hoping that a simpler experience would yield the best results. I will say that sucking the asparagus made me feel more ridiculous than sexy. Eventually, I just ate it with my teeth like a normal person. 

3/10. While there was something slightly powerful about biting straight into a phallic vegetable, I was too worried about the aftereffects (aka the asparagusic acid that makes your pee smell) to be turned on. 


While Dr. Jannsen explained that these vegetables fall under the shape analogy, I’m not sure exactly what body part artichokes are supposed to represent. (Note: after my first draft, my editor reminded me they have a very Georgia O’Keeffe/vagina vibe to them, which… fair.) I boiled them in lemon and olive oil, then used my teeth to scrape out the flesh. I guess that’s a little sexual? I can see myself sucking on these bad boys at a restaurant while holding prolonged eye contact with my date, though I’m not sure how well that would end. 

4/10. There were no physical sensations of arousal, but the artichokes get an extra point for the repetitive sucking and biting. 


Is there any food quite as slutty as the pomegranate? I promise I’m not the only one who feels this way. According to Dr. Janssen, “the pomegranate, with its sumptuous blood-red color and its many seeds, was seen as a symbol of the uterus and of female fertility.” According to some scholars, the pomegranate also often represented temptation, specifically in the Greek myth of Persephone, and Adam and Eve’s origin story in the Garden of Eden (some believe it was a pomegranate, not an apple, that got them kicked out of paradise). 

Someone once told me the best way to open a pomegranate was in an empty bathtub since it makes such a mess when cracked open, which also adds to its eroticism. I broke into my pomegranate and then started fishing out the seeds, letting the pink stain my mouth while I stood in the bathroom like a crazed serial killer. 

6/10. While I couldn’t feel anything in my, ahem, nether regions, something about sucking pomegranate seeds straight from the flesh gave me some major Sapphic Top Energy. 


“High-protein foods were considered aphrodisiacs, especially in times of general food scarcity,” says Dr. Janssen. “In the case of eggs, the fertility connection is obviously, particularly strong.” Dr. Janssen also references The Perfumed Garden of Sensual Delight, a late medieval Arabic erotic novel that describes the consumption of large quantities of eggs as the key to male potency. 

I cooked my eggs my favorite way: over-easy with salt and alongside a toasted English muffin. The actual eating portion wasn’t at all sexy. Though I love the way they taste, eggs are one of those things that freak me out if I think about them long enough. Also, while fatty goopy egg yolk is delicious, it’s not necessarily something I want to associate with sex. 

2/10. I felt a little disgusted with myself after this one. But then again, I don’t have testicles that need a boost of potency, so maybe it just wasn’t for me. 


I picked nutmeg because it fell into both the “hot” and “aromatic” food categories. There’s also some scientific research supporting nutmeg as a sexual stimulant. (Full disclosure, the study was performed on male mice, so who knows how it will translate to a human woman.) The study specifically calls out nutmeg’s primary active ingredient, myristicin, which can allegedly increase dopamine, a neurotransmitter that can lead to feelings of pleasure and reward. But be careful: large amounts of nutmeg can be toxic… and a trip to the hospital is never sexy. 

I added a teaspoon of nutmeg to warmed oat milk along with some honey and drank it on my couch alongside some candles at the end of a long day. Not gonna lie, it did make me feel very soft and sensual afterward, and I could see this leading to a clothes-off cuddle sesh by the fire. 

6/10. I would say this is the type of horny that made me want “cozy sex” as opposed to a “let’s break the headboard” bang sesh.

Chocolate-Covered Strawberries

Chocolate-covered strawberries are the poster child for Valentine’s Day—and allegedly, it’s for good reason. “Strawberries are rich in fiber, vitamins, and antioxidants, meaning that, especially as part of a balanced diet, they can help to improve blood flow and reduce inflammation in the body,” says dietitian and nutritionist Catherine Rall. “They won’t immediately get you in the mood, but they can help your body to respond well when the time comes.” Chocolate, however, has a more immediate effect. According to Catherine, it contains compounds like phenylethylamine and serotonin, which have mild mood-boosting and sexual stimulant properties that you’ll feel right after eating.

Perhaps most importantly, chocolate-covered strawberries are delicious, so I didn’t need any more encouragement to put these bad boys on my list. I ate these while channeling my inner Samantha Jones, clad in matching underwear and on white sheets and while sexting my man and felt very sexy. 

7/10. Though I do think part of it was the vibe and less about the effects of the food itself. 

Mulled Wine 

I picked mulled wine because it combined two of the major aphrodisiacs: spices and booze.

“The leading medical theory in early modern Europe, humoural theory, dictated that 'hot' foods and drinks inspired lust,” says Eleanor Barnett, food historian and the face behind @historyeats. “Wine and spices were considered 'hot', warming the body, and inflaming passions.”

While the science behind this aphrodisiac is fuzzy, I love a warm drink, especially if it comes with a mood shift. I opted to try it at a cozy neighborhood spot. After confirming that there was indeed nutmeg, ginger, and cinnamon in the mulled wine, I sat and drank it at the bar, waiting for the magic to happen. By the time I was halfway through the glass, I started feeling a little fun and flirty, but it’s hard to tell if that was because I was tipsy or because of the actual ingredients. After all, alcohol isn’t necessarily a legit aphrodisiac, but it does help one loosen up. 

9/10. I ended the night with my favorite vibe, so I won’t overthink this one. It was a winner.


Because I live in the wellness haven of Los Angeles and non-ironically shop at Moon Juice, I’m no stranger to maca. That said, it’s been one of those ingredients that I’ve assumed makes you more awake/energized/generally more horny without really knowing as to whether or not it’s true. To finally test my theory, I added a teaspoon of their maca-laced “sex dust” to hot chocolate, which I drank while trying to get some work done. And y’all… it worked. Let’s just say I’m glad I was WFH that day. 

10/10. So far this one has had the biggest effect on me physically, Mixing it with chocolate added a sensual luxury that only amplified the experience. 

Oysters and Champagne 

Ah, the classic combination of oysters and Champagne. Dr. Janssen told me this was one of her favorites because it combines “One, an analogy of form; two, lots of proteins for fertility; three, luxury; and four, alcohol.” To taste this one, I took myself to one of my fave seafood spots and ordered a glass of bubbles. While eating, I felt like Aphrodite herself—luxurious, earthy, and embodied. As for later, I’m not sure I felt any physical effects from the food itself, but this may be one of those scenarios where the mental effects were just as good as the physical. 

9/10. Because the combination of drinking from a champagne flute and slurping oysters is a bisexual’s dream come true. 

The Takeaway

As fun as it was to taste each aphrodisiac, my biggest takeaway was that the environment was almost as important as the food itself. It’s important to remember that a lot of the effects of aphrodisiacs are psychological,” says Rall. “If the food you’re eating, and the context in which you’re eating it, helps to get you in the mood, then it’s an aphrodisiac, regardless of what nutritional science may tell us.”

In other words, the foods we consider aphrodisiacs don’t always trigger a physical sensation—but that doesn’t mean they’re not erotic. After all, if the vibes are right, good food does lead to good sex. Maybe it’s as simple as that. 

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