As Newman Street Tavern’s inaugural OysterFest gets under way, we find ourselves in the mood for more than molluscs…
Forget February – autumn is when we ought to look to woo the ones we love. If you believe that food has aphrodisiac powers, then surely the beginning of the native oyster season is the time of year to get wining and dining. With all kinds of game in season too, and the cooler weather an open invitation to use heat-raising spices such as ginger and chilli in our cooking, can food have an effect on the emotional temperature of a potential relationship?
While there might not be any clear science about the Viagra-like potential of certain foods, there are some strong logical reasons to suppose that certain foods might have an impact on amorous activity. “What made a food historically noted as aphrodisiac is simply nutrition,” explains Amy Reiley, author of several books on aphrodisiac foods, journalist and gastronomist for match.com. “Food rich in nutrients that support sexual health such as vitamin E, zinc and manganese, ingredients that help boost energy and mood, and any foods rich in antioxidants that keep us looking and feeling our best, are all great for your sex life.”
Oysters definitely fit the bill in this regard. “Oysters are a cliché when it comes to considering aphrodisiac foods,” says Reiley, “but they’re an excellent and easily digestible source of zinc, a nutrient that helps blood flow to every region of the body.” Wild game too, as a lean protein, is a good provider of sustained energy, giving it kudos as an aphrodisiac. “Wild game is great for energy, whereas heavy foods like prime rib make the body focus too much of its effort on the digestive system when that energy might be required elsewhere. That’s also why some decidedly unsexy ingredients such as yams and beets have a reputation as being aphrodisiacs too: they’re good energy providers,” she adds.
The game season starts first, at the beginning of September, followed by native oysters, and in the past the appearance of a new food on the menu was often cause enough for a celebration. “The anticipation of waiting for a food to come into season means you value and enjoy it more when it comes,” explains Peter Weeden, head chef at Newman Street Tavern. “So, for example, tradition has it that woodcock fly the first full moon of November. Factually, it’s because that’s when it begins to become too cold for them in Scandinavia, but it meant there was something to look forward to when the weather turned colder. People marked the time of year as significant because they were more closely linked with nature.”
“Every year on Good Friday spear fishers go hunting for flounder on the River Helford,” he continues. “I go with my family and it’s like Christmas. That’s when you understand why there used to be festivals linked to foods. Food isn’t just fuel: it’s emotional. When you taste your first native oyster of the season, the anticipation forces you to savour it, to really stop and enjoy it.”
Though oysters used to be street food for the Victorians, almost as ubiquitous as the present-day kebab, now it’s almost mandatory to take your oysters with champagne which, conveniently, also has a reputation as an aphrodisiac. “Champagne isn’t just an inhibition reliever. Life becomes a celebration with champagne in the glass,” says Reiley. “Popping a cork brings the moment an air of indulgence. Though, of course, alcohol must be administered in careful doses since, as Shakespeare warned, ‘It increases the desire, but it takes away the performance’.”
Senses up, nutrition enhanced and, at a good party with food, the chances for romance surely become automatically higher. It’s not surprising that oysters have a reputation. “Eating oysters out of the shell is a sensory experience,” says Peter Weeden. “I like oysters because you can’t not have the sensory experience. The shell is wet and sharp and you have to get it in your mouth to eat the oyster. You can smell it, it tastes salty, and that’s enlivening. Your senses are awakened.”
That said, the choice is completely down to the individual, as Reiley reminds us. “Oysters are a wonderful aphrodisiac, but not if you don’t like oysters!” Still, there are lots of other options – grouse, quail, truffles, mussels, asparagus, cherries – all with their own seasons, and the excuse to toast their arrival, whatever time of year it is, with a glass of fizz.
Read this article as it originally appeared on Flavourfirst