Fact or Fiction?
Mar 12 2015

Fact or Fiction?

By: Carolyn Heneghan

THE OYSTER AS AN APHRODISIAC

Around Valentine's Day, we're in the thick of oyster season, or should we say, the season of love? We even included oysters in our aphrodisac roundup, though whether this is based on myth or science has been hotly debated. 

The word aphrodisiac has its roots in the name of Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love and passion. Legend has it that Aphrodite, born of the sea, rose from the waters in an oyster shell, a fitting start to the oyster legends.

Later, in the 18th century, Venetian lothario Giacomo casanova, from whom the word "casanova" derives its meaning, reportedly ate 50 oysters a day. This included dozens eaten to supposedly stir arousal before his legendary sexual gallivanting.

Casanova, along with the Greeks and other groups in history who subscribed to this notion may have had a point. While the FDA has not offi cially accepted any of the mollusk's effects as scientific evidence, there may be some biological basis, including minerals, hormones, amino acids, vitamins, and so on to the oyster's presumed promotion of sexual health, vitality, and passion.

For example, oysters have a high content of zinc, which regulates progesterone and aids in the production of testosterone, which then improves virility and sperm production. A zinc deficiency can actually cause impotence in men.

This was especially the case at a time when diets were commonly nutritionally deficient, which in turn introduced a high need for zinc consumption in any way possible. Zinc also naturally improves overall health, and therefore increases the capacity for sexuality in general. Because oysters have such a high content of this mineral, this likely aided in their assumed qualities as an aphrodisiac.

However, according to nutritionist Jennifer Graham, this biological tidbit has contributed to the surrounding myth. "Oysters are extremely high in zinc, which is an important factor in raising testosterone in men. However, it is unlikely that these testosterone-raising effects would occur immediately after consuming oysters."

Oysters contain iron, and without iron, individuals may be too tired to be in the mood. There is also a high trace of metal content, which could potentially correct imbalances of mineral levels, which may then produce signifi cant changes in physical performance. The phosphorus and iodine content in oysters can increase stamina as well.

Oysters, and the rest of their family of bivalve mollusks, also contain two amino acids: Daspartic acid (D-Asp) and N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA). These, like zinc, both contribute to an increase in sex hormones and virility. Oysters are also high in protein, which itself contributes to keeping men virile into old age.

Oysters also have a high concentration of the sex hormone progesterone, regulated by zinc. This hormone can increase libido, particularly for men, as it can turn to testosterone. The hormone dopamine, also found in oysters, promotes positive moods and arousal and otherwise stimulates the brain.

Concerning dopamine's effect on the arousal center in the brain, Graham comments, "This is something that feasibly could occur quickly after consuming oysters. However, the quantity of oysters that would have to be eaten to see a noticeable effect would be in the dozens."

Aside from minerals, hormones, and amino acids, there are still more biological factors and elements which may contribute to oysters' perceived push for passion. As mentioned before in terms of zinc, oysters are generally healthy eating, as they contain many vitamins A, B1, B3, c, D, and minerals in addition to Omega-3 unsaturated fats (the good kind).

Oysters are also low in calories, as a dozen contains only 110 of your recommended 2,000 a day, and most people don't eat more than two or three at a time. so when you eat oysters, you may not only fall passionately for the person sitting next to you, but you'll also be showing a little love to yourself.

Nutrition facts aside, there are also physical, textural, and otherwise sensual aspects of oysters to consider. While there is debatable scientifi c proof of the oyster's ability to invoke passion, many do agree that oysters have been considered aphrodisiacs for mental reasons rather than, or in addition to, biological ones.

Graham notes that in terms of aphrodisiacs in general, "We have to consider not only the composition of the food, but also the taste, smell, shape, texture, and the way that the food is consumed. Often times it is a combination of the physical characteristics of the food combined with the actual chemical makeup of the food that causes these thoughts."

To begin, many have claimed that the evocative appearance of the oyster itself resembles that of female genitalia, inducing the power of suggestion and the law of similarity, which states that any object resembling genitalia may possess sexual powers.

The texture of the meat is smooth and slippery, and eating them can be a suggestive experience all on its own. Their taste is slightly salty, and they have a sweet scent that is reportedly similar to the most potent female pheromone, TMA.

Graham too attributes some of oysters' aphrodisiac qualities to the texture of the mollusk. "The slippery texture and the way we eat them out of the shell could be part of the reason people consider them an aphrodisiac."

Whether the myth has been based on its biological, sensual, or physical characteristics, the oyster is still held by many to be an aphrodisiac of choice. And during the late winter and spring, just in time for Valentine's Day, is when they contain the most amino acids and thus appear to have their highest quality of power as an aphrodisiac.

Oysters generally breed over the summer, a time when many warn oyster lovers to abstain from slurping. if you have ever heard the saying, "Only eat oysters in months with an R," this precludes the summer months May, June, and July, and August. Before refrigeration, this saying was likely created to prevent people from eating bad oysters that had been spoiled by the heat. But this is no longer as much of an issue.

Still, some oyster aficionados still say to only eat oysters from fall to spring, especially in the spring, at the peak of their taste, because while oysters are breeding over the summer, their meat is less translucent and tasty. Spawning takes a lot of energy out of the oyster. They have to get it on too at some point after all, which leaves the meat tired, flaccid, mushy, milky, and overall not at its peak texture or taste.

A final word on oyster-eating for all you love-birds out there: make sure to only eat fully closed oysters, oysters that pour out deliciously salty seawater when they're freshly opened and shucked. The oyster needs to be alive until it's shucked, so if you come across an open one, which was dead, discard it right away.

Oyster, a culinary symbol of passion, has stood the test of time as its myths of being an aphrodisiac have swirled about its history. Whether or not the presumptions are based in fact or fi ction, oysters, especially our delectable Louisiana oysters, are an amazing meal by the dozen and should be enjoyed freely by lovers of all tastes' on Valentine's Day or otherwise.

Late Winter and spring "just in time for Valentine's Day" is when oysters contain the most amino acids.

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