Over a decade ago in Naples, Italy, researchers discovered that mussels contain an amino acid, D-Aspartic acid, which increases the level of sex hormones in lab rats. When the team presented their findings, they used the word “aphrodisiac” in the presentation title to entice their audience. It worked. News stories around the globe picked up the story. However, the claim that the oyster is a powerful libido-boosting food is scientifically false. The study looked at mussels, not oysters, and assessed D-Aspartic acid’s impact on lab rats, not humans.
To understand why oysters gained a reputation for such sex power, we look to history rather than science. Oysters served as a staple food source for average ancient Romans to poor Victorians alike, because the abundance of oysters meant that they sold for cheap. That didn’t last. Nearly eaten out of existence, oyster populations declined. When oysters became more difficult to come by, they transformed into a luxury food item that only the wealthy could afford. Oysters are making a comeback today, but eating them still signifies a certain amount of wealth. Like it or not, wealth can be a powerful attractor.
Oysters are considered aphrodisiacs because of their cultural value. In scientific terms, it’s the placebo effect. If you convince yourself it will work, it just might. Cultural reasons abound for the myth. Some believe oysters are powerful because the famed Venetian lover Casanova ate oysters every morning to maintain his stamina. Others point out that oysters resemble a certain aspect of female anatomy. Many believe that the way people eat oysters is the real culprit.
Eating oysters does have other proven benefits. They filter the water around them for food and are a vital part of a healthy underwater ecosystem. Oysters are a tasty way to get protein. The Virginia Aquarium’s Sensible Seafood Program lists oysters as one of the most sustainable seafood choices. Plus, buying Virginia oysters supports the local watermen and women who harvest and grow them.
So, eat Virginia Oysters on Valentine’s Day and throughout the year, regardless of what you believe about their aphrodisiac properties.
Written by Leslie Clements, Virginia Aquarium’s Sensible Seafood Program, Virginia Beach, Virginia
Visit the Virginia Oyster Trail Calendar of Events regularly for listings of upcoming activities and events.