‘Now, listen to me, folks…
Hear what I say.
You got to eat oysters everyday
They’ll put your love life back on track
They’re nature’s own aphrodisiac.’
Yes, love is most definitely in the air this week; and I bet all our local oyster bars are rubbing their hands in anticipation of the annual ‘lovers rush’ through their front doors. But are oysters really an aphrodisiac?
Aphrodisiacs are substances that arouse sexual desire or enhance sexual performance, and for many centuries there has been a search for any substance that can achieve this.
Just how certain foods or other substances ‘become’ aphrodisiacs are typically a matter of folklore not fact. In most cases the rarity or cost of a food or chemical invites people to endow it with magical powers of a sexual nature.
In the case of oysters, the most clichéd of all alleged aphrodisiacs, chemical analysis shows that they consist of boring water, protein and carbohydrates, plus small, non-exciting amounts of fat, spiritless sugar and monotonous minerals.
None of these components are in any way known to affect sex drive or performance. But the psychological impact of believing that oysters are aphrodisiacs is sometimes strong enough to produce, at least temporarily, greater sexual desire or display.
The experience of these enhanced sexual antics is then falsely attributed to the wonder food; and this discovery is passed on to the next person wishing to experience new heights of sexual sophistication and enlightenment.
More recently, American scientists analyzed bivalve molluscs (the group of shellfish that includes oysters) and found that they were actually rich in rare amino acids that triggered increased levels of sex hormones. And spring, they say, is the time of year the shellfish have their highest levels of these.
Some believe oysters were originally labeled ‘aphrodisiac’ because of their shape. Upon close inspection, they somewhat resemble the female sex organ. Could this be the reason why people also associated mussels with sexuality? Sexual appetite, more often than not, starts in the mind rather than in the body, so oysters could be responsible for psychological effects on the libido.
Previous speculation about the powers of oysters has also centred on the refueling powers of their high zinc content – found in sperm. Men lose between one and three milligrams of zinc per ejaculation; and our progesterone levels, which also have a positive effect on the libido, are zinc-controlled. Zinc deficiency can cause impotence in men, so any food rich in zinc is considered an aphrodisiac in that respect, and oysters happen to be loaded with the mineral.
So there you go; sexual food is usually false and just loosely based on fact. But if you are planning to delight your partner with a shellfish supper this Valentines Day, please consider the method that has been used to harvest your romantic meal. Diver-caught shellfish, sustainably harvested, causes little damage to the seabed and offer a welcome alternative to dredging which can dramatically harm our local marine environment.