All kinds of foods have been regarded as libido-lifting aphrodisiacs, either because of their reputation (oysters), physical appearance (figs) or luxurious price (lobster).
But often that food's power, like the stirring of desire itself, lies deep in our own minds.
But if you widen the definition to include foods that make the body feel energized, tingly and alive — think chile peppers in a spicy pumpkin curry — then such a diet can not only heighten overall health, but sexual desire as well.
That's the philosophy behind Amy Reiley's new cookbook, "Romancing the Stove: The Unabridged Guide to Aphrodisiac Foods."
"The older I get, the more I understand how important it is to do things for your body to keep yourself feeling and looking good," Reiley said in a phone interview. "I think you have to start by seducing yourself with the very best food choices."
In a "Dictionary of Desire," Reiley lists 40 nutrient-packed foods, from apples packed with antioxidants, which may protect cells from the damage caused by free radicals; to yogurt, rich in magnesium, a mineral essential to sex-hormone production.
Reiley also shares tricks for seduction, encouraging couples to slow down by cooking dishes, such as Olive Oil Poached Salmon, that offer more than one texture and temperature.
"That pulls your awareness in a little more and helps you be in the moment," she said. "The mouthfeel is really sensual."
Rounding out the cookbook are low-fat recipes to help you stay trim, dishes to whip up in a flash, and snacks offering "afternoon delight."
"Everybody needs a quickie sometimes," she said. "Sometimes, that is very necessary."
Here, according to Reiley, are the top 10 sensuous, in-season ingredients to feed your libido this Valentine's Day:
1) Chile peppers are one of Reiley's favorite aphrodisiacs, the heavy artillery of sensual dining, because they warm you up and produce euphoria.
"Your eyes get bright, your cheeks flush, and your lips plump up," she said. "It's similar to the way you would look with a sexual flush."
2) Chocolate, according to Reiley, is over-rated as an aphrodisiac, even though it does boost energy.
"Poor chocolate is not nearly what it's touted to be," she said. "A British study found that an average-size woman would have to eat over 20 pounds in a sitting to get that rush of happy hormones."
Still, chocolate is intimately interlaced with romance in our minds. Reiley suggests adding cacao nibs to chocolate fondue to boost its antioxidants.
3) Coffee is one of Reiley's favorite aphrodisiacs, capable of doubling pleasure and fun.
"After a leisurely meal, a shot of espresso is genius," she said. "Not only does it boost your energy at a needed time, but it can promote the production of dopamine, a mood elevator."
4) Oysters are sexy, but if you really want to seduce someone, research suggests that mussels might just be a more effective bivalve.
"It seems that there's a potential that they can boost sexual hormones," Reiley said. "And they are associated with Aphrodite (the Greek goddess of love, beauty and sexual rapture)."
5) Pomegranates, a ruby-red fruit from the Middle East, are also associated with Aphrodite.
And, according to the International Journal of Impotence Research, pomegranate juice may have the potential to treat erectile dysfunction. Plus, they are a great source of antioxidants.