What Aphrodisiacs Actually Work?


When Aztec emperor Montezuma wanted to set the mood for a special lady, he ate fistfuls of cacao beans. He believed the cacao fueled his sexual desire, making it a night to remember for the lucky Aztec maiden. Ever since then, many people have believed that chocolate will get their juices flowing. However, a new study from researchers at the University of Guelph in Ontario, Canada, found that chocolate’s aphrodisiac effects are all mental—cocoa is as effective as an aphrodisiac as Spanish fly (which actually is a beetle, and poisonous).

Massimo Marcone, a professor of food science, and John Melnyk, a graduate student in food science, scrutinized hundreds of studies about aphrodisiacs, evaluating whether each substance had an actual effect.

After throwing out studies with dubious scientific rigors, they determined that panax ginseng, saffron, and yohimbine (from the yohimbe trees in West Africa) actually improved sexual functioning—saffron and ginseng even treat erectile dysfunction, and ginseng helps menopausal women increase sexual satisfaction.

While people claimed to experience an increased sexual appetite after ingesting muira puama (a flowering Brazilian plant), the MACA root (an Andean mustard plant), and chocolate, Marcone and Melnyk note there is no evidence that chocolate increases sexual arousal or enjoyment. Marcone suggests people might perceive better sexual experiences because the phenylethylamine in chocolate impacts serotonin and endorphin levels in the brain. And the researchers found that while alcohol increases sexual desire it decreases sexual performance.

So if you need something to get you in the mood, consider investing about $1,300 in a 16-ounce tin of saffron, the world’s most expensive spice. Don’t you wish chocolate really was an aphrodisiac?