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When Sparks Fly: Aphrodisiacs and the Fruit Fly

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.


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If your partner has ever given you anything like this…

Edible underwear

Edible underwear: Eat me? or Eat me!

…or this…

horny goat

Does horny goat weed make you horny? Producers of this aphrodisiac drink would say, "Yeah, baby, yeah!"

…you might be wondering things like: how am I supposed to react to this? Or, should I re-evaluate this relationship?

Researchers have also asked questions regarding reactions and relationships when examining the connection between foods and sexual desire.

Historically, sex, appetites and the intersection of sexual appetites have spanned the globe for centuries. The term “aphrodisiac” is derived from the name of Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of sexuality and love. In the story of Adam and Eve, the apple was symbolic of the ultimate temptation; the Kama Sutra devotes an entire chapter to recipes containing pomegranates and other amorous ingredients. The idea that food can be an aphrodisiac perpetuates in modern times, especially around Valentine’s Day, when publications feed into the idea that sharing information on food can lead to carnal knowledge.

Some foods have been categorized as aphrodisiacs simply based on appearance. Bananas, carrots, sausages, melons, figs, and oysters are considered titillating due to their resemblance to sexual organs. This stems from the theory of sympathetic magic, that “like attracts like.” As a result, the mere sight of such objects can supposedly make one crave something similar.

cherries

Hermaphrodisiac? This cherry has something for everyone.

I’m not sure if the converse is true but for those who crave a taco or hot dog…this might explain it.

Other foods are classified as aphrodisiacs due to the physiological response they are believed to elicit. Researchers have explored the chemical properties of these foods to see if there is any scientific basis to validate their reputation. The recommendation of using cloves and cinnamon as a way to spice things up in the bedroom was included in the Arabic sex manual The Perfumed Garden.

Recently, the claims that these spices were aphrodisiacs gained attention again. A study by the Smell and Taste Treatment and Research Foundation found the scent of the pumpkin pie leads to an increase of penile blood flow by 40 percent and also enhanced sexual desire in women. While the study produced interesting findings, it should be noted the correlation between arousal and pumpkin pie isn’t 100 percent. This might be good news or else Thanksgiving could be a much less family friendly version of a food orgy.

champagne

Poppin’ One: The act of uncorking can be very exciting.

The hope with most dates is that wining when dining will lead to other activities. When consumed, alcohol blocks inhibitory nerves in the cerebral cortex of the brain. As a result, a person may feel more relaxed and inhibition can be decreased, leading people to do things they might not normally do. This can be both good and bad.

beer goggles

Warning: Alcohol can lead to impaired decision-making including (but not limited to) selection of eye wear.

When too much alcohol is consumed, excessive drinking can result in decreased motor coordination and impotency. Shakespeare summarized this point in Macbeth, “Lechery, sir, it provokes and unprovokes; it provokes the desire, but it takes away the performance.”

One of the most famous aphrodisiacs, Spanish Fly, had many notable users including Henry IV and the Marquis de Sade (for whom the term sadism was named). Yet, the name “Spanish Fly” is a misnomer and its reputation as an aphrodisiac is deceptive. It isn’t a fly; it is a beetle also found outside of Spain and the reaction it causes is non-sexual.

Its active ingredient, a chemical compound known as cantharidin, causes an allergic reaction that can irritate the urethra and can cause a non-sexual erection known as priapism. In some cases, ingesting Spanish Fly can lead to death. Technically, this means it may make a person stiff, just not in a desirable way (unless rigor mortis is the ultimate goal).

This doesn’t mean there shouldn’t be any association between flies and aphrodisiacs. There’s an adage that you can attract more flies with honey than vinegar. However, it turns out it might be neither when it comes to attracting fruit flies.

Researchers have demonstrated that the first true aphrodisiac might be rotting fruit and its effects may be limited to fruit flies. When male fruit flies get a whiff of phenylacetaldehyde and phenylacetic acid, which are compounds present in ripe and rotting fruit, it triggers a set of neurons linked to sexual activity.

fruitflies on mango

This may smell like rotting mango but to male fruit flies it tastes like brown chicken, brown cow!

fruitflies mating

This food does not put her in the mood: the effect of the scent of rotting fruit is limited to male flies.

The male’s desire to get frisky in the fruit results in the females laying their eggs in the same location. This has led to speculation that it may be an evolutionary method ensuring there is nourishment already available for their offspring.

The results of this study require further exploration for its application and significance for other organisms. While humans might not share in the benefits of this research just yet, they can still share a drink. Say adios to Spanish Fly and meet its distant cousin, Spanish Fruit Fly–with both wine and ripened fruit, this fermentation combination is the ultimate elixir of love for the Drosophila melanogaster (and when served in small amounts, may have the same effect on humans, too).

 

flies on a straw

Spanish Fruit Fly, by Layla Eplett

SPANISH FRUIT FLY

Ingredients:

1 Bottle of Rioja or any Spanish wine

3 Cups of your favorite aphrodisiac fruits (such as apples, cherries, berries or mangoes)

1/2 Cup Brandy de Jerez

1 Cup Water

1/2 Cup Sugar

1 Cinnamon stick

5 Cloves

*Optional Garnish–fly paper and flies created using edible paper and corn syrup as an adhesive.

Create a simple syrup by combining water, sugar, cinnamon and cloves in a saucepan. Whisk the ingredients together so the sugar dissolves and bring to a boil. Allow it to boil for one minute. Cool and remove cloves and cinnamon stick.

In a pitcher, mix the simple syrup with the remaining ingredients and allow to sit for up to six hours for humans or longer for fruit flies!

Image credits: Edible underwear: Markus Hetzer on Wikimedia Commons, aphrodisiac drink: Foxtongue on Flickr, Hermaphrodisiac cherry: quasireversible on Flickr, beer goggles: Caveman Chuck Coker on Flickr, champagne: bought at iStock photo, fruit flies feasting: John Tann, fruitflies mating: TheAlphaWolf on Wikimedia Commons modified by Layla Eplett.

Layla Eplett About the Author: Layla Eplett writes about the anthropology of food. She has a Masters in Social Anthropology of Development from the University of London's School of Oriental and African Studies and loves getting a taste of all kinds of culture--gastronomic, traditional, and sometimes accidentally, bacterial. Find her at Fare Trade. Follow on Twitter @LaylaEplett.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.






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