The first time I went to Trinidad, which happened to be on my honeymoon, I was sitting on Maracas beach liming with some pals and saw a tall skinny guy with a burlap sack on his shoulder walking along the shoreline.
He stopped from time to time to chat to people, occasionally selling them a package of what looked like some sort of bark.
After a few more beers and dips into the sea, and as his silhouette disappeared way down the beach, I learnt that what he was selling was bois bande, a local aphrodisiac, which when translated means “hard wood”.
Bois bande is found throughout the islands of the Caribbean and is used to make tea, sauces and to flavour rum. It is said to have miraculous results on men with limp libidos.
As old as Adam
Needless to say, being young and virile, we were only mildly interested in this information all those years ago.
But as time goes on, it is now a subject that interests me a great deal.
And Mr Bois Bande was definitely responsible for whetting my appetite for, and fascination with, the Caribbean obsession for aphrodisiacs.
Obviously, it is not only in the Caribbean that this subject abounds.
Man's association of food with aphrodisiacs has existed since the first big bang.
One could say that it all started with Adam and a spare rib named Eve, a sneaky serpent, some juicy fruit from the tree of knowledge of good and evil - and lo and behold, sex and the siren began.
And so did our speculation about aphrodisiacs – was it an apple, or a banana or maybe a fig in the garden of Eden?
If it was an apple, one a day may keep the doctor away, but it sure didn't keep Adam at arm's length.
There are all sorts of weird and wild tales circulating in the Caribbean on how to become a supremo in the sack.
The weirdest one I heard about must be that if you whacked your “John Thomas” on a paw-paw tree trunk four times, it would grow proud and strong for ever.
Sounds very painful to me!
So do aphrodisiacs really work?
Do tonics make you tremble?
Does honey give you a hard-on, or mannish water make you more manly?
Let’s look at the reality and fantasy, the history and heresy of the ingredients, potions and tonics used in the islands taken to top up a flagging libido.
The list seems endless, so I have taken the liberty to highlight those that I find the most interesting.
The science of Caribbean aphrodisiacs
It seems that alcohol often has a large part to play in getting things off the ground, so to speak. Without it, there probably wouldn't be much sex. Euripides, the Greek tragedian, wrote in 405 BC, ”If wine ceases, there will be an end of Love, an end to every pleasure in the life of Man.” And if you think about it, many of us have had a drink or two to relax before indulging in any romantic escapades. But having said that, the key, rather boringly, is moderation. Too much and it is just as likely to result in a session of snoring rather than a bonking bonanza.
Bananas, for example, look remarkably similar to a male appendage, with their size and gentle curve. Perhaps more importantly, they contain the amino acid tryptophan, which is metabolised into serotonin (the molecule of happiness). Eating bananas also apparently stimulates the release of dopamine, the body's impulse-and-reward pleasure hormone. Add to this the natural sugar content of sucrose, glucose and fructose providing energy and you have the recipe for a long and enjoyable session between the sheets.
This bad boy is the guilty culprit for my interest in Caribbean aphrodisiacs. There are three species of the bois bande tree: Roupala montana, Richeria grandis and Parinari campestris, that grow on various islands. The bark, when infused and drunk as a tea or with rum, is reputed to have some of the well documented side effects of Viagra. It has been known to cause priapism (an erection lasting more than six hours), so should be taken with caution.
This is one of the few edible “aphros” favoured by us ladies. Maybe it has something to do with the sensual sensation of the chocolate melting and sweetness on the tongue. Cocoa is a very complex food, but there are three important elements in cocoa solids that are certain to get things going in bed: PEA (phenylethylamine), theobromine and trytophan. PEA occurs naturally in the body when one is in love. Theobromine elevates the heart rate and dilates the blood vessels in the same way as sexual arousal and tryptophan breaks down into serotonin, which creates that sense of well-being which happens during sex.
Cow cod Soup, mannish water and king cock soup
These three soup/tonics fall into the same category as far as I am concerned – a tonic for “todgers”. They are made with the bits and pieces of the relevant male animal and are targeted towards topping up testosterone. Cow cod soup uses the bull’s balls cooked with sweet potato, seasoning and pumpkin. Mannish water has all manner of ram’s offal plus the feet and head, combined with ground provisions and cooked into a soupy stew; it is often served to a groom at his wedding feast. King cock soup is another really nourishing one-pot dish, made from rooster and lots of seasoning and ground provisions, reputedly guaranteed to perk up a male's member.
The success of hot pepper/chilli as a libido lifter is really to use it with discretion. Too much and it will burn at both ends - and never touch your nether regions after you have handled it. Just use enough to give your palate a kick-start – it has a pleasure/pain effect, which can be so effective.
A surprising addition to the list, the male iguana has the unusual attribute of having two penises, which may be the reason why they are often made into a soupy stew and eaten as an aphrodisiac. But having said that, the female flesh and eggs are also consumed in a soup as a cure for impotence.
Linseed is an important source of alpha-linoleic acid (omega-3 essential fats) and linoleic acid (omega-6) for vegetarians. Both are vital for the production of hormones such as prostaglandins, which are useful in increasing energy and vitality. Used in many of the Caribbean tonics.
This is one of my favourite personal aphrodisiacs, juicy, fragrant and luscious. The best place to eat it is in the bath. Then use the sucked fibrous stone for stroking your loved one in all the right places!
This rather disgusting-tasting fruit has been hailed as a cure-all for everything, as well as a drink to cure a lagging libido for both men and women. It should be mixed with another fruit juice, such as grape juice, to make it more palatable.
It seems an unlikely aphrodisiac, but surprisingly this manly cereal has been associated with virility since time immemorial. I guess that's where the expression “sowing your wild oats” originates. More recently, oats have gained a sexy culinary reputation as a superfood. It has been proven that they have a unique set of phytoalexins. When eaten, they act as a mild anti-histamine, which is known to slow down over excited libidos and make the journey to paradise last longer.
Each island in the Caribbean has its own version of uplifting tonics for every ailment, as well as sexual potency. Here are a few to wet your whistle:
Sea moss tonic: one of the most popular sexual and health tonics throughout the Caribbean. It is made with seaweed, gum arabic, cinnamon, vanilla, linseed, milk and honey. Some people add a shot of white rum.
Soursop tonic: believed to thicken sperm and make it more potent. The tonic is made with soursop juice, lime and sugar.
And finally roots tonic. There are four main roots used in this tonic: strong back root (stiff cock - Radic morindae officinalis); chainy-root (Smilax balbisiana); sarsaparilla root (Smilax officinalis); and brial-wis (Smilax sp). The roots are boiled up with water, then diluted and mixed with honey and vanilla.
I remember my son telling me as a teenager that one of the most amazing aromas he remembers was a scent that was popular with all the girls in his class and it smelt... just like vanilla. This is the purest form of aphrodisiacs. The scent and taste of vanilla represents total femininity, sweet and virginal, yet at the same time intoxicating to all that smell her. The seeds and the pod of a tropical vanilla orchid have a flower that opens for one day a year and resembles the special part of a lady. It's no wonder that it is totally tantalising.
I had no idea how sexually potent this rather innocuous large taut sphere was. It contains an amino acid, citrulline, which is found in the rind and flesh. Citrulline makes the body release arginine, which in turn is metabolised to release nitric oxide, dilating blood vessels and resulting in hard nipples, a sexual blush and an impressive crotch.
The list of aphrodisiacs is impressive and many of the potions are undoubtedly enticing. But do they really work? To be honest, there is no scientific proof that they do, but the placebo effect can work wonders!
Personally, being a food writer, I'm convinced that certain kinds of food and drink do enhance the romance and eroticism of a relationship - and nothing that any scientist may say will alter that.
But it has to be eaten in the right atmosphere and you have to be in the right mood, with right person whom you desire, at least as much, or almost as much, as the food that you are enjoying!!!!