"Don't know much about history, don't know much biology ..."
That love song by Sam Cooke is the perfect intro for today's topic on the Organic Romantic Show. During the past few years, I've been taking calls during this month of love about Valentine's Day dinner dilemmas and produce department rendezvous. I've even ventured to find out what people think are the most romantic fruits or vegetables—with wonderfully surprising results, I might add.
And while I've had fun and given out some fresh ideas to spice up love lives, this is not a new idea by any means; love and produce have been intertwined since the beginning of time. So I've decided to spend today's show taking a historical stroll down the romantic produce aisle.
Since it's easy for us to recognize romantic interludes with fruit, such as succulent mangoes or ripe, juicy strawberries, I say let's start with vegetables. How about arugula? Going as far back as the first century, it was reported that the seeds of this nutty flavored green were an aphrodisiac. Hmm, maybe that's why it sells so fast off the Seeds Of Change display each spring.
Moving down the rack, carrots have historically inspired spirited thoughts, and their consumption has been connected with stimulation. Middle Eastern royalty considered carrots to be an important seduction aid, believing they inspired a man's deepest fantasies. It was commonly held that either cooked or raw carrots could light the fires of passion to levels beyond compare.
And speaking of roots, in Iran, it was believed that turnips cooked in milk was the recipe for someone whose passion for love was waning.
Springtime staples such as artichokes and asparagus have their own place in romantic history. When King Henry II of France married Catherine de Medicis, she became quite the talk of the French court because of her extravagant fondness for artichokes. It wasn't just how many she ate that caused a bit of a scandal. The blooming veggie was widely believed to be an aphrodisiac, and it was considered socially unacceptable for a young queen to be so obsessed with, well, satiety. I wonder if the king minded?
Asparagus had its own reputation in France in the 19th century. It was common practice for a bridegroom to eat three courses of warm asparagus before his wedding night because of its amorous benefits.
Let's move over to the dry racks. Onions and garlic, essentials in everyone's kitchen pantry, have many sensual secrets hiding in their past. Onions are recommended in traditional Hindu books on the art of lovemaking, and priests in Egypt weren't allowed to eat them because of the lust they might generate.
Garlic is no cold-hearted commodity either. The Egyptians, Greeks, Romans, Chinese and Japanese all believed it to be a powerful aphrodisiac. In Talmudic tradition it was thought to arouse such a strong sexual passion that men were forbidden to eat it on the Sabbath.
Another common spice, ginger, has quite a reputation as a powerful aphrodisiac. The famous poem of health, Regimen Sanitatis Salerni, described it this way: "Hot ginger quenches thirst, revives, excites the brain, and in old age awakens young love again." Perhaps it may be prudent to add a few extra chaperones at the retirement center next time they have Thai food on the menu.
And finally, we arrive at one of my all-time favorites, basil.
A wonderful-smelling herb that can draw admirers from anywhere in the store when its leaves are rubbed together, basil is said to produce a sense of well-being. But even more noteworthy, the herb is said to boost fertility and stimulate sex drive. Could that be why pesto is so popular?
Boy, how time flies. And we never even made it to the fruit section. I've always said that a great produce department was the temptation leader of a great store. No wonder it's called fresh produce. But if all of this sexy information were more widely known, you might find produce more of a draw for Valentine's Day shoppers than you'd expect. Anyway, if I were working in the department this month, I would be prepared to whisper more than just menu suggestions.
Mark Mulcahy runs an organic education and produce consulting firm. He can be reached at 707.939.8355 or by e-mail at [email protected]
Natural Foods Merchandiser volume XXIII/number 2/p. 28