Vanilla as an aphrodisiac

vanilla aphrodisiac

Vanilla is an orchid. There are about 60 species scattered around the globe, but most are not suitable for the production of Vanilla beans, that culinary delight which is found in delicatessens. Yes, Vanilla is one expensive spice, second to Saffron. If you’re wondering why you have a cheap one in your kitchen, they are most probably the “cheap imitation vanillas” whose mixture is made from synthetic substances which imitate the vanilla smell and flavor. The one commercially used as a spice is Vanilla planifolia (formerly known as Vanilla fragrans). It is mostly from Mexico. It is a robust, climbing vine producing a single leathery leaf about 12cm long at each node together with its roots which cling tenaciously to its host tree or, in cultivation, trellis. The vine itself can be 20mm in diameter. Vanilla planifolia comes in two varieties - the plain and the variegated form. The plant usually does not flower until at least 3 metres tall and it can reach a size of 20 metres and more.

The scent and flavor of Vanilla, which is believed to arouse sexual desires, comes from its black beans. The seed pod develops over a period of 8 to 9 months, and to about 200mm in length. The pod is green, plump and still immature. It does not have any aroma at this stage. A good vine can produce 100 pods per year. There are several methods of treating the pods to turn them into the black beans you know. They are dipped in hot water for two to three minutes, then sweated and dried, or the pods are spread on trays in the sun to heat for two to three hours, and then folded in blankets to sweat until the following morning. This process continues until the beans become pliable and are deep brown (this may take several months). The pods are then dried in well ventilated shade or drying rooms for a further two to four weeks.

Historically, the Aztecs used vanilla mixed with chocolate as an aphrodisiac which can be proven by the adventures of a Spanish conquistador named Herman Cortez during his conquests of the new world in 1518.

According to history, Herman Cortez met with Emperor Montezuma while seeking treasures of the New World. He observed that the Emperor enjoyed a royal beverage of vanilla scented chocolate, Chocolatl (sometimes referred to as "tlilxochitl" or "xoco-latl"). Cortez was so impressed by this regal drink that when he returned to Europe, he took bags of cocoa and vanilla along with the gold, silver and jewels of Montezuma’s fallen empire. In the written accounts of Bernal Diaz, Cortez’s right hand, the Aztec Emperor Montezuma ate frugally at the great events, but drank as many as 50 cups of Chocolatl, which was said to be the reason for his success with women.

The Aztecs used vanilla beans as tribute to their Emperor who was believed and revered as a god. They place great value to this spice the same way they value cocoa. Aztecs generally frowned on the use of alcoholic beverages; Chocolatl was their drug of choice and was enjoyed by royalty, nobility, and warriors. It was served after banquets along with smoking tubes of tobacco.

Ironically, Chocolatl did not begin with the Aztecs, but with the Maya. The Maya called the magic beans “cacao” from which we created the words "chocolate" and "cocoa." The generous Maya shared with other Mesoamericans their fabulous beverage which, in addition to chocolate, included vanilla, corn, allspice, chile, and other flavorings. We can assume the Mesoamericans knew of chocolate and vanilla’s alleged power since both cocoa beans and vanilla pods were valuable enough to be used as money. When money grows on trees and vines it’s bound to be a source of interest with the locals. The Aztecs claimed the drink as their own after conquering the people of the lowland tropics. They then taxed the Maya, Totonaca, and others, and demanded payment in cacao and vanilla beans. This insured that the king always had a supply of sexy ingredients in the royal pantry.

The belief of vanilla as an aphrodisiac was perhaps from the old Totonac lore about Xanat, the young daughter of the Mexican fertility goddess, who loved a Totonac youth. Unable to marry him due to her divine nature, she transformed herself into a plant that would provide pleasure and happiness. She became the vanilla orchid so that she could forever belong to her human love and his people.

In any case, The Spaniards were, sufficiently enough, impressed that they returned to Spain with news that chocolate and vanilla were an erotic duo. Chocolate and vanilla were made into an all-purpose drink that quenched one’s thirst, warmed the body, served as a medicine, and acted as an aphrodisiac. In the curious medical beliefs of the time, chocolate was considered "cold." It therefore was good for the body. Vanilla, on the other hand, was considered "hot." Denis Diderot, a French intellectual in the 1700s, and a prolific writer on many topics, believed that while chocolate was good, many of the additional flavorings added to it were bad, unless you were in an amorous mood. Like many of his contemporaries, he warns: "The pleasant scent and heightened taste it (vanilla) gives to chocolate has made it very popular, but long experience having taught us that it is extremely heating, its use has become less frequent, and people who prefer to care for their health rather than please their senses abstain completely." It makes one wonder how many people then – and now – cared more for their health than their chocolate.

By the 1600s, vanilla was considered a flavor worthy of being served on its own merits. As vanilla was "hot," the doctors of the time believed that those who used it got "hot" as well. In the 1700s vanilla was recommended by physicians and alchemists to be drunk as a tincture or infusion in order to ensure male potency. Bezaar Zimmermann, a German physician, in his article, "On Experiences" (1762) claimed that, "No fewer than 342 impotent men, by drinking vanilla decoctions, had changed into astonishing lovers of at least as many women."

Thomas Jefferson is credited with vanilla’s arrival in the United States. When he returned from his ambassadorship in France in 1789, he was dismayed to discover that no one in the States knew about vanilla, so he wrote his French attaché requesting that he send him 50 vanilla pods. Clearly Jefferson’s personal passion was well received since soon it was used as a flavoring and a medicine, and – you’re right – an aphrodisiac. In the 1800s Dr. John King, advised in the American Dispensatory, that one should use vanilla to, "stimulate the sexual propensities." He went on to give a very carefully detailed recipe for a decoction promising amorous evenings. If the good doctor was right, a hefty swig of vanilla extract before bedtime could work like a charm.

While some drank vanilla in their pursuit of love, many others found that its delicate persuasive aroma was just as powerful. The Totonaca wore vanilla beans in their hats and used it to perfume their homes, a practice they continue today. They used the oil from the drying vanilla beans to rub on their skin until their bodies glistened. The Europeans – especially the French – created perfumes from vanilla pods, not only to wear but also to fragrance their tobacco and snuff. When vanilla extracts came onto the market at the end of the 19th century, more than a few savvy women dabbed a little behind their ears and onto their wrists, thereby creating the ultimate in perfumes – a sensual aroma that also conjured up the homey pleasures of food fresh from the kitchen. Smart modern women have found that fragrances with strong vanilla notes draw an attentive audience with minimal effort.

There’s something about the scent of vanilla that’s at once sexy and erotic, sweet and innocent. It’s an ingredient in sultry, exotic, and mysterious Oriental fragrances, romantic floral bouquets, sophisticated and confident modern perfumes and even in sensual, relaxing, and calming scents. Judging by its popularity as a fragrance in everything from bodycare to candles and air fresheners, vanilla has that secret something that draws us in. This brings us to some tests done by neurologist Alan Hirsch of the Smell and Taste Treatment and Research Foundation in Chicago.

In controlled tests designed to better understand the connection between smell and sexual arousal, Dr. Hirsch had volunteers wear masks scented with an array of odors. Several fragrance combinations were found to be very effective in increasing penile blood flow. These included lavender and pumpkin pie, doughnut and black licorice and pumpkin pie and doughnut. However, mature men were most aroused by just one simple smell, vanilla. Modern science has proven what native people figured out centuries ago, and many of us discovered on our own -- whether you prefer to eat, drink, or smell it, vanilla is definitely a potent character in the arena of love.


  1. Well, with Valentines Day coming up soon, I decided to stock up on some Vanilla Beans to make a variety of "Love Potions". Homemade Vanilla Bean Vodka might be too overwhelming- Aphrodisiac mixed with vodka=love potion #9. I purchased a bunch of Vanilla Beans from Beanilla Vanilla. I did some shopping around and have read a lot about their beans and I can't wait to use them.

  2. Yes. But also, more than being an aphrodisiac, Vanilla is one great spice that can be used to make several food, especially pastries and drinks, better.