The debate on aphrodisiac foods remains open, with some claiming it is just the power of suggestion, while others swear by the efficacy of certain foods.
Certainly the release of endorphins caused by the pleasant and tantalizing taste of some foods will help you relax, which in turn can put you in a favorable mood for intimacy.
Some of the following aphrodisiac Italian foods may work for some and not for others, but hey, they all taste good and have many beneficial properties, so consider adding them to your diet regardless of their stimulant properties.
Make sure you scroll to the end for some surprises!
Chili pepper - Peperoncino
Chili pepper (peperoncino in Italian) is considered the quintessential aphrodisiac. The reason for it is that it is a vasodilator, thanks to a substance called ‘capsaicin,’ which is also what causes spiciness. Peperoncino is an excellent healing herb: it improves circulation, lowers cholesterol, and is good for the heart.
Now, for optimal results, go for peperoncino from the southern Italian region of Calabria, the spiciest of all, used locally in a variety of dishes (it even has a festival dedicated to it). Look for the Sigaretta variety, which is said to contain the highest amount of capsaicin.
Olives and Olive Oil - Olive e olio d’oliva
Olives have been a staple ingredient in the Italian and Mediterranean diet since ancient times, known for their medicinal properties and also used as aphrodisiacs. Green olives are said to increase a man’s virility, while black olives seem to stimulate women’s sexual desire.
There was even a study claiming that olive oil may boost testosterone levels thanks to the presence of vitamin E (the Greeks already believed olives made men more virile).
Olives are packed with antioxidants and olive oil is an excellent source of monounsaturated fats.
Among the best Italian olives to eat are the taggiasca variety, typical of Liguria, whereas for olive oil you’re spoilt for choice, from Tuscan to Umbrian to Apulian EVOO.
Garlic - Aglio
Garlic has also been known as an aphrodisiac for a long time, but you may want to be careful with the quantity you eat given the effect on your breath - or at least make sure both you and your partner eat it!
Garlic was widely used in Roman times for its magical and healing properties. Garlic was distributed to the legions of soldiers to prevent infections and to exalt their male ‘virtues’: from enthusiasm for combat to contempt for fear. The Romans made garlic a plant sacred to Mars, god of war.
Garlic contains allicin, an ingredient that increases blood flow, for this reason it is thought to have the ability to stir the passions.
Sulmona's red garlic is one of the best and most renowned in Italy. Thanks to its intense aroma, it lends itself well to flavor any dish. Want to enhance its aphrodisiac effect? Rub it on a bruschetta sprinkled with olive oil.
Artichokes - Carciofi
Appreciated by the Greeks first and then by the Romans, artichokes saw their golden age during the mid-15th century, when they were in high demand on the tables of the Tuscan nobility. They were made even more popular by Caterina de’ Medici, who introduced them to the French when she married King Henry II of France; apparently, her husband feasted on artichoke hearts, which he considered powerful aphrodisiacs.
Artichokes have also been praised as the most sensual and feminine of vegetables.
So we say ditch the ostrich and go for artichokes instead!
The secret of artichokes’ success through history lies in its unique medicinal properties: they contain antioxidants, fibers and vitamins, cleanse the liver and reduce cholesterol.
Italy is the world’s first producers of artichokes and several sagre are dedicated to it.
The most prized variety of Italian artichoke is the Roman artichoke, also known as mammola or romanesco.
Arugula - Rucola
Who would have thought that arugula is an aphrodisiac plant?!
Indeed, like all leafy greens, rucola is a good source of nitric oxide, which increases blood flow.
Since the times of the Egyptians, Greeks and Romans, arugula has been widely used as an ingredient in love pots. It was believed to be able to rekindle the passion and contribute to greater fertility, a matter of primary importance in ancient civilizations.
In addition to being aphrodisiac, arugula has other important beneficial properties for the body. It contains very few calories and is mostly made of water, which makes it perfect during summer to fill up on mineral salts. It has a good calcium content, therefore it helps strengthen bones and teeth. It is detoxifying and rich in vitamins.
A variety of arugula that is grown spontaneously in Mediterranean Italy is called ruchetta. Unlike the classic type, this one has narrower and more jagged leaves, with an intense aroma.
We suggest you make a pesto di rucola! Use arugula, parmigiano reggiano, walnuts, olive oil and salt. A winning combination.
Almonds - Mandorle
Not only a remedy for hangover, but also the fruit of love, almonds have been considered one of the best aphrodisiac foods since ancient times.
In the Middle Ages, almonds were widely used in kitchen courts, essential for aphrodisiac dishes and love potions.
This belief about almonds is still reflected nowadays in the popular custom of gifting sugared almonds to guests when baptisms and weddings are celebrated, to wish fertility and prosperity.
The aphrodisiac properties of almonds derive from its nutritional and beneficial properties: they provide energy for an optimal physical performance (!), they are anti-inflammatory and antiseptic. Almonds are also rich in vitamin A, calcium and iron.
Not to mention that a luscious oil is obtained from almonds, which make it perfect for a romantic massage by candlelight.
The best almonds are considered those from Sicily.
Asparagus - Asparagi
Asparagus, in addition to being a food rich in fiber, mineral salts and vitamin C, purifying and diuretic, are also considered an aphrodisiac. A British herbalist in the 1600s wrote that asparagus “arouses desire in men and women.”
In Bassano del Grappa (Veneto), an ancient tradition that is still popular today makes use of asparagus as an essential ingredient of wedding lunches and dinners, because it is believed to be propitiatory for the newlyweds. (Incidentally, the white asparagus of Bassano is considered among the best in Italy.)
The good quantities of vitamin E contained in asparagus are said to stimulate male hormones, promoting a greater virility.
There are more than 200 varieties of asparagus in Italy. Among the most prized are those produced in the Veneto, as well as the asparagus from Altedo (Emilia-Romagna).