Onions, tulsi, pistachio nuts, eggs, chilli peppers, chocolates, pomegranate...designated as aphrodisiac food down the ages, these are being prescribed to Indian city slickers to feed their "erotic fantasies and desires".
In the age of changing urban lifestyles, food is a great and easy way to de-stress and work up a libido, said Prabeen Singh, a Delhi-based authority on aphrodisiac food and an arts activist.
"There can be no substitute for the suggestive power of the subconscious that actually makes the man or woman believe that the beak of swallow ground in newt blood, mixed with the first blossom of 'champa' plucked on a full spring moon is a magic potion for flagging libido," Singh told a packed audience at the India International Centre (IIC) in the capital.
"The more costly and exotic the ingredients are, the greater its potency," she said during a discourse on "Aphrodisiac Food".
The fear of sagging libido is often a major source of anxiety, especially in men, Singh observed. Hence the quest for aphrodisiacs since time immemorial.
Libidinous food was first documented in the Vedic texts and the Bhagavad Gita in India, in ancient Chinese scriptures, in the writings of Pliny the elder and Discordes in first century AD.
The word aphrodisiac traces its origin to the Greek goddess Aphrodite, known for her beauty and ability to love, Singh said.
The Vedic science that probes the sexual power of food in ayurveda is rasayan tantra (nutrition therapy) and vajikarana (virilisation).
For example, the Vedas that have detailed conjugal codes for couples, cite onions as the cheapest aphrodisiac that promotes harmony in bed. Islamic, Christian and European traditions also endorse it.
Ancient texts recommend anise, basil, orchid bulbs, pistachio nuts, arugula, sage, sea fennel and river snails as the most common aphrodisiacs, Singh said.
The Greeks believed that any food that had the power to "induce gases" in the body possessed aphrodisiac quality.
The Arabian magnum opus, The Pefurmed Garden and India's Kama Sutra speak of condiments like nutmeg, cloves, cardamoms and ginger as spices that trigger sex drive.
"The flower of a mango tree according to a myth represents the Cupid's arrow. Mango groves were considered a status symbol in Southeast Asia. The mango is still a symbol of male sexuality. It is often compared to a sealed jar of 'paradisiacal honey'," Singh said.
The mundane egg is associated with new life and as the symbol of fertility.
The Egyptians believe that god created the white and yellow egg out of the sun and the moon. In France, brides break an egg on their doorstep to ensure many children.
"The most opulent of all eggs, caviar, the Persian egg of strength, has high zinc content and amino acid that act as a vascular dilator, increasing blood flow, increasing libido," Singh said.
Legends say Venetian adventurer and author Giocomo Girolamo Casanova de Seingalt, the celebrated French courtesan Madam Dubarry and the Russian spy Rasputin were all fond of caviar as the "aphrodisiac of their choice".
Chilli peppers release endormorphins that cause a floating energised feeling.
"So powerful is its pleasure that it can be addictive. It has the power to raise body temperature and make lips swell to a kissable plump pout. The effect of eating red-hot chillies can send visual cues of a sexual flush," Singh said.
History cites that chilli was used as a key ingredient in fortifying chocolate "which the ruler Montezuma consumed to make his tongue dance and pulse quicken in preparation for his daily visits to his beautiful concubines".
Crustacean sea food like oysters, lobsters, abalone and scallops are said to possess aphrodisiac powers. "Oysters are full of zinc that controls the progesterone level," the food expert said.
The Quran cites pomegranate as a "fruit of paradise". It boosts energy and is a "natural relaxant".
Common mood-relievers like figs, bananas, chocolates, honey and absinthe are potent as libido-stimulants, Singh added.