I’ve blogged before about the sensual relationship between food, love, and sex (e.g. If food be the music of love). This symbiotic relationship can be contrary. Infatuation, in some, can affect the desire to eat—due, evidently, to the natural chemical stimulant phenylethylamine (PEA), which can have mood and energy enhancing effects, making us feel alert, excited, even, light-headed, as well as stimulate the libido, but also act as an appetite depressant.
More often, though, we think of the commonalities between love, sex, and food. These all employ taste, as well as sight, smell, and touch. Love can heighten the sensory perceptions. A piece of research at Radboud University in the Netherlands in 2013, for example, concluded that when mentally bound up in matters of love, everything tastes sweeter, even water—due to the way the brain processes taste information (rather prosaically).
Then there are aphrodisiacs, food and drink said to stimulate sexual desire. Much of this, apparently, goes back to those phenylethylamine (PEA) arousing properties. Chocolate contains PEA, leading to release of dopamine, a neurotransmitter that plays a role in our feeling pleasure and released when we experience “highs” of excitement. Apples, symbol of love and fertility, associated with Greek goddess Aphrodite, contain PEA, too, as do tomatoes or ‘love apples’. Then there are foods that add ‘spice’ in quite literal ways. Ginger, for example, gets the body’s circulation going. Ginseng is believed to increase one’s libido by exciting the central nervous system.
In Aphrodite: A Memoir of the Sense, Chilean writer Isabel Allende expands on the erotic connection between sex, love, and food in great detail, and, along with literature, celebrates some of the key pleasures in life. All the sense are explored, even an olfactory connection between the “sweaty, garlic-tinged odour” of truffles and the redolence of the New York subway. Between memoir, fiction, and a non-linear history of the erotic and use of aphrodisiacs, the text is garnished with quotes from great writers on love and the erotic, such as Shakespeare, Pablo Neruda, and Anaïs Nin. And there are recipes, celebrating every sensuous glide and crunch. She concludes with a recipe for arroz con leche with which you “can cover your lover from head to foot… and…” (well, it’s all in the mind).
I don’t believe its the rice that’s an aphrodisiac, but rather the creamy properties of the dish that give it a place here. In English, the equivalent ‘rice pudding’ holds far less sensual associations (probably memories of school dinners…) Still, for Valentine’s Day, below is a similar (not the same as Allende’s) recipe.
½ cup / 120g pudding rice (short grain)
5 cups / 1.2 litres half whole (full fat) milk and half condensed milk
¼ cup / 60ml superfine (caster) sugar
½ cinnamon stick
Zest of half a lemon (no pith)
Grated cinnamon to dust
Soak the rise 30 minutes then strain it.
Put the milks, rice, and whole cinnamon into a large pan with a strong base and bring gently to the boil.
Quickly turn down the heat to simmer for about 30 minutes until the rice is soft. Keep stirring so the rice doesn’t stick.
Stir in the sugar and zest and continue to cook over a low heat for a further 30 minutes, stirring, or until the rice is cooked and the liquid thickened.
Remove from the heat and take out the cinnamon.
Pour into serving dishes (or onto a person) and grate over more cinnamon. Serve warm (though not, for health and safety reasons, too hot).
S. Pappas, ‘Love Really Is Sweet, Science Reveals’ in LiveScience, 21 January 2014 https://www.livescience.com/42730-love-really-is-sweet.html
Isabel Allende Aphrodite: A Memoir of the Senses, 1998, Harper Flamingo/Harper Collins.
Photo by Jasmine Waheed on Unsplash