Get in the mood this season with these fine foods

There’s a reason that oysters, caviar, champagne and chocolates have come to represent the romance of Valentine’s Day. Besides carrying an air of extravagance, these foods are considered aphrodisiacs. Why? Sometimes because the food induces pleasure (chocolate and champagne), or a chemical in the food increases potency (the zinc in oysters), or the food itself is an egg and represents fertility (such as caviar), or because it resembles certain body parts normally involved in the procreative act (again, such as oysters, or bananas, if you get my drift). Various cultures have singled out delicacies said to encourage passion.

Arugula

In Roman times, this herb was consecrated to priapus, a god of fertility. It’s a peppery green that livens up a salad – although some people can’t handle its direct, hot taste. Like wasabi, the potency of arugula seems to go straight to the brain. It can make the diner feel more awake and aware, like being in the company of your true love. arugula is a pricey green compared to lettuce, but because it’s so light, a bagful with enough for a salad will cost just a few dollars.

Licorice

The herb anise, which is responsible for the flavor of licorice, has been considered an aphrodisiac since ancient times in Greece, Rome and China. Even the distinctive scent of licorice is said to be stimulating. most of us only know licorice as a harsh candy made from artificial extracts. But candies made in Europe and australia from natural anise are becoming more popular. Carousel Candyland in Kahala mall carries them in bulk, in pretty colors, too.

Chilies

Capsaicin, the chemical that gives “heat” to chilies, is also a stimulant that raises the heart rate and can trigger the release of endorphins, providing a feeling of well-being. Chilies can even make you sweat. offering your sweetheart a whole pepper might not seem very romantic, but consider instead a chili-flavored chocolate candy or a bit of chili pepper jelly atop a cracker.

Almonds

Thanks to their egg shape, these nuts have long been a symbol of fertility, said to promote thoughts of love, especially in women. In the Bible, Samson wooed Delilah with almond branches. The nuts are actually high in vitamin E. For a deluxe touch, consider the marcona, a lightly fried Spanish almond, or the candy-coated Jordan. other ideas: marzipan treats, made from almond paste, or an almond liqueur such as amaretto.

Figs

Cut open these fruits and they bear a certain resemblance to those clinical sketches of the female reproductive system. Filled with seeds and a bit egg-like in shape, figs have long been considered aphrodisiacs. Fresh figs are hard to find, but dried figs are widely available, as are foods made with figs, from jams to baked goods to cheeses.