Could the rumours be true? Is chocolate an aphrodisiac? Whilst it has been affectionately termed a “food of love”, evidence suggests that it’s simply a food we love.
Society seems hell-bent on instilling chocolate with magical properties so as to justify our consumption of it. Countless health claims are made surrounding chocolate and its connection with sex has been a long-standing one. Even today, there are dubious studies carried out on chocolate and its aphrodisiacal qualities.
What is an Aphrodisiac?
An aphrodisiac is defined as ‘a food, drink, or other thing that stimulates sexual desire.’ It’s the (pseudo)scientific term for “love potion” – and chocolate has long been considered a staple aphrodisiac.
However, the term ‘aphrodisiac’ wasn’t used to describe food until the seventeenth century. During this period, aphrodisiacs weren’t understood as something that aroused desire, but as a means to fight against infertility. And the list of foods that qualified as aphrodisiacs was extensive, including stinging nettles and root vegetables like parsnips (which I’m sure had little to do with their nutritional content). Chocolate really was just one of many foods said to increase potency.
Why Chocolate is Considered an Aphrodisiac
20th century studies fixated on two chemicals found in chocolate: phenylethylamine (PEA) and tryptophan. Tryptophan is used by the brain to make serotonin, a crucial mood-boosting hormone. PEA stimulates the release of endorphins and dopamine – it can also be found in those first flashes of love.
Whilst both of these could account for why chocolate might “get you in the mood”, it is unlikely that the few squares of craft chocolate your consume contain enough of either chemical to incite a couple to rip each other’s clothes off (contrary to whatever adverts might suggest). In fact, PEA is digested so quickly in the stomach that it is near impossible to track its physiological effects and, by extension, whether or not it acts as an aphrodisiac.
Another chemical found in (dark) chocolate which could be credited with libido lifting properties is quercetin. Quercetin is a flavonoid works similarly to Viagra medications in that its anti-inflammatory properties can relax blood vessels and therefore increase blood flow to genitalia. However, the effects of this are limited to people with poor circulation; someone with a healthy blood flow is unlikely to benefit from these effects.
The Truth of the Matter Is…
Recently, the very existence of aphrodisiacs has been under scrutiny, with evidence suggesting that foods which increase desire/sexual function might be more ‘mind over matter’ than physiological fact.
So, chocolate may not induce any chemical responses strong enough to have its consumers overcome with lust, but it may have psychological benefits which certainly won’t stop you from getting in the mood. The stages of anticipation (as you unwrap your favourite bar) followed by savouring (as you let it melt in your mouth) that come with chocolate consumption are pleasurable enough so as to enhance our mood.
But if you’d like to personally investigate the mood-boosting, alleged libido-enhancing properties of chocolate, give some of our highest-rated bars a try!
Further Reading on Chocolate and Aphrodisiacs:
- Aphrodisiacs, Fertility, and Medicine in Early Modern England
2. ‘Do Aphrodisiacs Really Work?’ (Jessica Brown, BBC, 2019)