“We sucked them [oysters] in, one by one, after placing them on each other’s tongue. Voluptuous reader, try it, and tell me whether it is not the nectar of the Gods!”
That’s a quote from the diary of Casanova, the famous Italian playboy who left a trail of love and heartbreak as he hopped from bed to bed, seducing over 112 women in Venice and reaffirming the city’s brazen reputation as 18th Century Europe’s capital for orgies and uninterrupted pleasure.
Apparently, Casanova consumed 50 oysters for breakfast every day to jumpstart his libido first thing in the morning, and historically speaking, he’s largely responsible for oysters being perceived to this day as a potent love drug.
But is it really?
Opinions are deeply divided on this.
On one hand, there are people like `Oyster Lady’ Katy Davidson, one of the world’s leading experts on oyster, who says: “Oysters seem to attract nice, friendly people! The process of shucking them and eating them is so unique… It’s the ultimate raw, shared food, and it’s very social. The communal element creates such a buzz.”
Davidson calls this claim out as a myth – just like so many other myths surrounding oysters that say you can’t drink spirits with them (false), you should only eat them raw (false), and so on.
On the other side of the oysters-are-an-aphrodisiac debate are scientific studies – like the famous one conducted by the American Chemical Society in 2005 – that establish bivalve molluscs (which include clams, oysters, mussels and scallops) as having desire-inducing properties. Bivalves contain zinc, the study said, which is an essential nutrient for testosterone production and spermatogenesis, and they also contain specific amino acids and seratonin, which invoke a pleasure response in the brain and body.
The problem with coming up with a consensus on whether oysters are an aphrodisiac or not is this: it isn’t so much about what oysters do for you, as much as how they make you feel.
The ritual of shucking and consuming oysters is a multisensory experience. Oysters take on the characteristics of their environment, which show up in their appearance, texture and taste profile, just like grapes pick up resonance from the terroir (soil) they are nurtured in.
Fresh oysters, full in the shell with a moist, pulsating frill, firm in texture and brimming with precious, natural juices, smell invitingly of the seashore as the tide recedes over seaweed-covered rocks. They are attuned to lunar rhythms and open and close with the influence of moonlight. There’s perceived mystery in the tumescent folds of its delicate meat that resemble feminine sensuality.
Given that there are so many circumstantial factors that keep us fascinated and confused by the powers of oysters, the only responsible answer to the question “Are Oysters An Aphrodisiac?” seems to be this: “Sure, if you’d like to think so…”
But we still took this question to David Putaportiwon, Raw Bar Chef at Bellevue’s premier Seastar Restaurant And Raw Bar, where he serves 1,500-2,000 oysters to seafood connoisseurs from Bellevue and Seattle every week.
“In some ways, it is probably true that some people are propelled by the aphrodisiac idea when they order oysters,” says Putaportiwon. “There is definitely an uptick in our oyster sales on Valentine’s Day.” General Manager of Seastar Restaurant And Raw Bar, Mark Manca, corroborates this observation. “I do notice some good energy coming from tables that fits the dating profile when they order oysters,” he says.
Mark Manca’s comment really hits the nail on the head. Because fact or fiction, it is beyond a doubt that oysters do encourage romance. The sensuality of the eating experience titillates the brain, which in turn releases feel-good hormones that mimic the powers of an aphrodisiac.
So go ahead and eat as many oysters as you like on your next big date night. As long as you’re pairing them with the right wine and enjoying them in the right sort of company, there’s no reason why the evening shouldn’t end, exactly as you planned it!