Massimo Marcone, an associate professor of food science at the University of Guelph, used to dismiss aphrodisiacs as mere folklore. In 2011, in fact, he conducted a thorough scientific review of more than 200 international studies on consumable aphrodisiacs, and rejected almost all as invalid. But Marcone was shocked to find that a few studies on one particular spice—saffron—held up to close scrutiny.
“Not only does saffron appear to have aphrodisiac properties for both men and women,” Marcone says, “but it helps with anxiety, insomnia, PMS. and insulin resistance.”
The seductive spice, whose red-gold threads come from a type of crocus that is native to Mediterranean Europe and Southwest Asia, contains antioxidants including crocin, crocetin and safranal. These are believed to be responsible for increasing sexual desire and arousal, according to studies Marcone reviewed that measured blood flow to sexual organs and frequency of sexual encounters after consuming the spice.
The ancients knew saffron’s power: It’s said that Alexander the Great added it to his rice and tea, Cleopatra bathed in it before meeting her lovers, and Romans were known to sprinkle saffron on newlyweds’ beds.
Available in supermarket spice aisles and used in Spanish paella, Moroccan tajine, Italian risotto and many Persian/Iranian dishes, saffron is pricey, running from $50 to $300 an ounce. But a little—a tiny pinch—goes a very long way, says post-doctoral fellow Sanan Wang, who worked with Marcone on the review. ’
What about other spices in your kitchen? Nutmeg, cloves, garlic and ginger also look promising for sexual potency, Marcone says, but more research is needed. (Don’t hold your breath, though; none of these natural products can be patented, so drug companies aren’t racing to sponsor such a study).