Geoffrey Chaucer (1343–1400) is credited with associating Saint Valentine to a tradition of romance, penning the words: “For this was on St. Valentine’s Day, when every bird cometh there to choose his mate.” And since, February 14 has been a date that’s devoted to devotion—one that is celebrated annually with fondness and a little bit of pressure (especially for those who have to “DTR”).
There can be panic about being the most romantic person ever on the most romantic date ever. But before making a reservation at the most romantic restaurant ever, remember that there are other meals that can be as demonstrative of affection as a $200 bill—and for fewer calories. These are aphrodisiacs, eats that are designed to get you and your partner “in the mood.”
Here, we’ve collected the healthiest ones (plus recipes) for an evening to remember. Because, who needs expensive chocolates and strappy lingerie when the ingredients for a wild night are in the kitchen?
But, whatever you choose, Alexandra Jamieson, health coach and author of Women, Food, and Desire, recommends, “Don’t wait until after dinner when you’re full and digesting. Greet your lover with a hot cacao drink, sprinkled with cinnamon, and enjoy each other before eating! Especially on Valentine’s Day. No one feels sexy after a big meal.”
Cacao, the almost fat-free seed that produces cocoa, contains anandamide: a derivative of arachidonic acid that is considered the “bliss” molecule for its positive effects on the brain. (The name “anandamide” comes from “ananda,” the Sanskrit word for “bliss.”) Cacao also includes phenylethylamine (a stimulant) and tryptophan (a precursor of serotonin) to create an aphrodisiac cocktail. Jamieson adds, “Substitute cacao for chocolate in your favorite recipes. Phenylethylamine, a ‘love’ chemical, is associated with dopamine.”
Recipe: Create “hot cacao” by adding 2 tablespoons of cacao powder to almond milk that’s being warmed on the stove. Then whisk with ½ teaspoon of vanilla extract and a couple of drops of stevia.
This is a spice that’s hot, hot, hot, thanks to its active component, capsaicin. Chili peppers are an aphrodisiac that are “heating” while increasing circulation, which can make people more sensitive to touch. They can even increase metabolism and cause the brain to react with endorphins, the same “feel good” chemicals that we know and love from exercise. Oh, and the bonus? They’re beautifying, causing cheeks to blush and mouths to pucker. So basically, you’ll appear hotter after eating this hot food.
Recipe: Create a skewer of chili peppers with other veggies plus a protein for a spicy bite.
Pumpkins are associated with Halloween, but perhaps they should be associated with Valentine’s Day, especially their seeds. These babies are brimming with zinc, which has been proven to boost testosterone. Testosterone, of course, is associated with sex drive for men as well as for women. Jamieson adds, “Zinc is the ultimate ‘sex’ mineral. Studies have shown that women with high levels of testosterone have a greater sex drive.”
Recipe: Pumpkin seeds can be roasted in the oven with a dash of salt and/or sugar. Or, they can be added (even when raw) to oatmeal in the morning.
These flavors, which include cinnamon and nutmeg, have been credited for centuries for their powers as aphrodisiacs. And in 2014 their powers were confirmed: Research showed that men “respond” most to a scent with pumpkin pie (which, of course, features cinnamon and nutmeg). These sweet spices are praised for being “warming” while increasing circulation—plus, a dash of cinnamon and nutmeg can sweeten your breath! Jamieson adds, “Spices that are warming increase blood flow throughout the body as well as in the abdominal and pelvic regions.”
Recipe: Add cinnamon and nutmeg to almond milk that’s being warmed on the stove, then whisk.