"Aphrodisiac" describes certain agents thought to increase desire — the word comes from Aphrodite the Greek goddess of love. There are several types of aphrodisiacs, many of them food items, from coffee to arugula to garlic to avocado. (In fact, the Aztecs called the avocado tree “ahuacuatl,” which means “testicle tree.” Mull that one over.)
Though there isn’t much scientific evidence to support the idea that certain foods arouse desire, the belief has existed for centuries. With Valentine’s Day approaching, venues all over town will be serving up romantic fare, but two places are specifically focusing on menus with that special aphrodisiac kick.
I spoke with Brett Knipmeyer, owner and chef at Kinley's Restaurant (3230 Seward Highway, 644-8953) about his aphrodisiac menu. “There’s no proof of science saying they really exist,” Knipmeyer said. “I think aphrodisiacs are more of a placebo effect.”
But Knipmeyer isn’t just banking on rumor. He’s done his research and believes it’s a combination approach. “In addition to the placebo effect is the look of the food,” he said. “An oyster looks like a part of the female anatomy. With asparagus, you’re looking at a blatant phallic symbol.”
But it also depends on how things feel — in romance you have to use all your senses. Knipmeyer gave an example: Imagine the effect on a patron as he watches his girlfriend eat an asparagus spear dripping with hollandaise sauce. (Um, gross.)
“If you’re talking about aphrodisiacs, you’re going to have to speak frankly,” Knipmeyer said. “The literature says the more sensual the approach, the more effect it gets.”
Chef Hannah Robertson at The Anchor Pub and Club (712 W. Fourth Ave., 677-7979) is also serving up amorous delights in three courses called “Foreplay,” “Turning up the Heat” and “Sealing the Deal.” Oysters, asparagus and chocolate are on this menu, just as they are at Kinley’s.
Robertson commented on her menu in an e-mail: “I find the whole concept interesting,” she wrote. “I wanted to create a Valentine’s menu that was fun and a little naughty while still based around fine dining.” The solution was to choose “aphrodisiac” foods that complement traditional items.
“I definitely think it’s down to our imagination,” Robertson wrote regarding aphrodisiacs. But she doesn’t completely discount science. “Oysters contain high levels of zinc, which raises testosterone … and chocolate helps the brain produce the feel-good chemical serotonin.”
But there are also aphrodisiacs you don’t have to eat. In a list of the top 10 aphrodisiacs on livescience.com, only six were ingestible items.
And then there’s alcohol. “Obviously wine is an aphrodisiac also,” says Knipmeyer. “That’s straight up. Alcohol lowers inhibition.”
Robertson agreed. “Any kind of alcohol in enough quantity can be an aphrodisiac,” she wrote. “Champagne has to be number one. The bubbles hit the blood stream quicker than still wines.”
The aphrodisiacs on the livescience.com list that aren’t food include Spanish fly (ground-up beetle), Viagra, psychoanalysis, getting in shape, and (ladies, you’ll love this one) respect.
So, maybe it is better to think about the side of romance that has to do with your head and focus on relationships, affection and communication. But come on, it’s OK to get down and dirty on Valentine’s Day. And there’s always lots of chocolate.
“People love chocolate. They get happy,” Knipmeyer says. “And if you make the woman happy, there you go.”
See this week's Dining guide for a list of Valentine’s Day options in Anchorage, including the prix-fixe dinners at Kinley’s and The Anchor Pub and Club.
-- by Jessica Bowman