Historical Aphrodisiacs

Historical Aphrodisiacs at The National Gallery with Tasha Marks

Last week i was lucky enough to be able to work with Tasha Marks, creator of AVM Curiosities. (http://www.avmcuriosities.com).


Menu – Tasha Marks at The National Gallery


AVM Curiosities at The National Gallery.  A Table of Aphrodisiacs.

She puts on splendid displays and events connecting food, art and history. This time, as Valentines Day was looming around the corner, she was putting on a workshop about historical aphrodisiacs at The National Gallery. On the night i was in charge of crowd control. Everyone seemed dizzy in love and desperate to try Tasha’s aphrodisiac creations. The week before i had helped Tasha look through books such as ‘The Encyclopaedia of Aphrodisiacs’ to find out more about what was claimed to ‘get people going’ as far back as during Cleopatra’s time.

I wanted to share with you some of the interesting stories I read about and interesting food objects that i found had super powers in tempting ladies and men into the bedroom, supposedly.

The definition of an aphrodisiac in the Oxford Dictionary is ‘a food, drink, or other thing that stimulates sexual desire.’


Aphrodisiacs – Pomegranate, Coconut, Mushrooms, Ginger, Nuts, Quince, Basil, Thyme, Honey, Fennel, Avocado.

So, most typically one would think of oysters and champagne. However neither of them are actually proven to increase levels of sexual desire, often to do with influencing levels of hormones. Basically anything that can be recognised as new, exciting or expensive can be seen as an aphrodisiac. Believe it or not, when potatoes first came to England they were seen as damn sexy!

Food objects that look in any way phallic or similar to genitalia were automatically seen as an aphrodisiac, perhaps as they would get the mind wondering. Asparagus, being long, coconuts (literally being seen as hairy balls), oysters supposedly having similar visual properties and a ‘similar mouth feel’ to female genitalia were all labeled as aphrodisiacs. Once you start researching almost ANYTHING can be described as an aphrodisiac, it just depends how creative you are! An artichoke was seen as tempting because of the way you ate it. It was like you were undressing your partner, pulling off each leaf one at a time and then feasting on the fleshy part of the vegetable.

Originally infertile women and men would be ‘treated’ using aphrodisiacs. If a man was suffering from erectile disfunction ‘windy meats’ such as beans would be prescribed. They thought the force of wind would enable the man to have an erection.

As far back as the Roman times they would go as far as to eat bone marrow and menstrual blood to try and have a baby.

Cleopatra was a big supporter of aphrodisiacs. She would take them daily as well as feeding them to her lovers. She was known for drinking pearls dissolved in vinegar.

Anti Aphrodisiacs

There was a Roman Emperor who’s wife fell in love with a gladiator. The Emperor was furious and followed instruction on how to make the gladiator seem repulsive to his wife. Each day his wife was made to drink a small amount of the the gladiators blood and apparently this worked. She no longer had eyes for the handsome gladiator and the Emperor was very happy indeed. Why the Emperor didn’t just kill the gladiator straight away seems quite odd to me!

All of this information needs to be taken with a pinch of salt. Each book we read contradicted a point made in another book. I just found it fascinating to research this topic however much truth there is in it. It hasn’t made me run to the shops to stock up on all vegetables that resemble genitalia though!

For more information please listen to Tasha Marks talking on Gastropod. It’s fascinating. (http://gastropod.com/the-food-of-love/).

Lastly here is her recipe for the biscuits I made.

Kama Sutra Biscuits 

A twist on an Ancient Indian recipe for sweet potato and velvet bean biscuits

‘The Kama Sutra claimed that ‘by constantly eating these biscuits, one’s sperm acquires such force that it is possible to sleep with thousands of women who, in the end, will ask for pity’ – this my have a teeny tiny hint of truth as recent studies have shown that the velvet bean increases levels of dopamine in the brain.’


400g plain flour

250g butter, softened

140g caster sugar

1 egg yolk

1 sweet potato (pre-roasted)

5tsp mucuna pruriens (velvet bean) (5 capsules)

* Mix the butter and caster sugar in a large bowl with a wooden spoon

* Then add the egg yolk, sweet potato and velvet bean and briefly beat

* Sift over the plain flour and stir until the mixture is well combined

* Refrigerate for a couple of hours to stiffen mixture – if needed

* Roll mixture out to 1cm thick and cut into rounds

* Place onto greased baking tray (or parchment) and bake at 160C (fan oven) for 30 minutes or until lightly golden

(Makes 35)

Recipe by Tasha Marks, AVM Curiosities


There once was a Hamburger from Hamburg

As a nation, we are obsessed with burgers. Burger restaurants swarm every high street. Constant variations of the original recipe secure its place on menus from pubs to Michelin starred restaurants. The brioche bun arrived and gave the standard pub burger a whole new lease of life. Now extra toppings such as exotic cheeses, maple bacon and chorizo boost the humble burger into a classier and often quite a pricey meal bracket. Then there are the endless sides of truffle and parmesan fries (I always feel ripped off when fries are sold separately), mac n cheese and onion rings. Craving a burger can mean two things. You either crave the Mac Donald’s type burger that you can flatten into a pancake and eat in a few bites or, you want the burger with a huge skewer that is just managing to hold all of the different colourful layers in place, with a side of stacked hand-cut chips. Both have their moments.

So, where did the hamburger come from? The minced meat steak originated in the 19th Century in Hamburg. As refrigeration wasn’t available they had to use up meat quickly. They would mince up the parts of the cow that hadn’t yet been sold and mould it into patties with onion and seasoning to shift the produce quickly. This was called the ‘Hamburg Steak’. The bun didn’t arrive until later when German immigrants came to America. They opened up restaurants that served the Hamburg Steak. The thousands of workers at the steam factories in America needed a quick and affordable lunch that they could eat standing up and on the go. Here was born the burger bun. By 1900 it was considered an American classic. 

This is my go-to burger that is fancy enough, but not pretentious.  

If you don’t have one of the ingredients, it doesn’t matter – just leave it out. 


Beef Burgers with Caramelised Bacon and Aioli 

Makes 4, Prep Time 20 mins, Cooking Time 20 mins

Burger Buns x 4 

Patty Ingredients 

500g Good Quality Minced Beef

2 Tablespoons of Tomato Ketchup

2 Tsp Worcestershire Sauce

1 Tsp Marmite

1 Tsp Dijon Mustard

1 Egg

2 Tablespoons of Fresh Thyme

1 White Onion, finely diced

1 Clove of Garlic, crushed

Salt and Pepper

Dried Herbs of your choice – a sprinkle of dried rosemary and/or oregano 

Pinch of Chilli Flakes

8 Rashes of Smoked Streaky Bacon

1 Tablespoon of Brown Sugar 

1 Tablespoon of Honey

Mixed Leaf Salad or Rocket

Sliced Strong Mature Cheddar, (or American sliced cheese if you prefer)

Sliced Tomato 

And then if you fancy …

Sliced Gherkins

Sliced Red Onion


etc … 

Cheats Aioli Mayonaise

1 Clove of Garlic, crushed

8 Tablespoons of Mayonnaise

Juice of Half a Lemon

1/4 Tsp Salt


Pre-heat the oven to 180c. Lay the bacon out on a wire rack on top of a baking tray. Sprinkle with a little brown sugar and drizzle with honey. Put in the oven for 10-15 minutes until crispy and caramelised. 

Heat a small pan, add a drop of oil. Add the chopped white onion and the garlic. Take off the heat when it has become translucent – 4-5 minutes. 

Put all of the patty ingredients in a bowl and mix together. Divide the mixture into four and shape into patties. Push your thumb down half way in the centre of each patty so that they don’t dome when they are fried. 

Heat a frying pan with a little bit of sunflower oil so that the patties don’t stick. Fry the patties on each side for 4-6 minutes. 

Mix all of the aioli ingredients together in a small bowl and set aside. 

While the patties are frying, slice your buns in half and toast them in the toaster or in the oven. 

When the patties are almost cooked lay sliced cheddar on top of them in the pan so that the cheese melts. 

Build your burger – Butter your bun and slather with the aioli. Start at the bottom with salad, the patty, melted cheese, caramelised bacon, red onion, tomato etc …. keep on building.