World’s Most Expensive Spicy Aphrodisiac: It Really Works!

bright red saffron
Middle East flavors can ‘spice’ up your love life, Canadian study finds.

History is ripe with stories of foods, herbs and spices thought to enhance the libido, but scientific data to support whether a man’s virility or a woman’s sex drive could really be enhanced by certain supplements is scant. The dearth of proof may be changing. Canadian researcher, Massimo Marcone, a professor in Guelph’s Department of Food Science, and master’s student John Melnyk, have confirmed what the ancients knew with regards to food and sexual health. Specific compounds, including the world’s most expensive spice (read further for the big reveal!) – whose origins are Middle Eastern/Asian – offer up eco-sexy nutrition without the side effects of pharmaceuticals such as Viagra (sildenafil) and Cialis (tadalafil).

Their results are available online and will appear in print in the journal Food Research International.

First the Science, then the Sex

Marcone and his team examined hundreds of studies on commonly used consumable aphrodisiacs to investigate claims of psychological or physiological sexual enhancement. Ultimately, they included only studies meeting their most ‘stringent controls.’

“Ours is the most thorough scientific review to date. Nothing has been done on this level of detail before now.” Marcone reportedly said of their investigation into natural sexual enhancers. Such research is compelled in part by the multi-billion dollar erectile dysfunction drug industry that comes with a ‘price.’

“These drugs can produce headache, muscle pain and blurred vision, and can have dangerous interactions with other medications. They also do not increase libido, so it doesn’t help people experiencing low sex drive.” There’s additional concern that younger men are using these drugs when they have no history of erectile dysfunction, and in combination with other agents that could cause dangerous side effects or adverse reactions. Green lovers recognize the need for natural products that enhance sex without negative side effects, hence the growing popularity of the eco-sexuality movement.

The results? They found that panax ginseng from Asia and yohimbine, a natural chemical from yohimbe trees in West Africa, improved human sexual function.  Increased sexual desire was reported after eating muira puama from Brazilian and maca root from the Andes. Alcohol was found to increase arousal but impede performance. But despite its purported aphrodisiac effect, chocolate was not definitively linked to sexual arousal or satisfaction, the study said.

“It may be that some people feel an effect from certain ingredients in chocolate, mainly phenylethylamine, which can affect serotonin and endorphin levels in the brain,” Marcone said.

Get it on with Saffron

As for the contribution from this region to our sexual palates, it turns out that saffron, a spice used along Europe’s glamorous Mediterranean coast and throughout Middle Eastern cuisine, from Iran to Iraq, Turkey to Greece with evidence dating back thousands of years, may be one of the most potent enhancers yet. Stories abound about the use of saffron by Cleopatra (who is said to have taken baths in waters scented with this rare gem prior to making love), Ancient Persia, the Sumarians and Alexander the Great (as a curative for battle wounds), among many others.

To this day, the northern town of Safranbolu in Turkey – a UNESCO World Heritage Site whose name is derived from this delicate flower – is known for its annual saffron harvest festivals.

Even the Hebrew Bible sets claim to saffron’s seductiveness in the Song of Solomon.

“Your lips drop sweetness like honeycomb, my bride, syrup and milk are under your tongue, and your dress had the scent of Lebanon. Your cheeks are an orchard of pomegranates, an orchard full of rare fruits, spikenard and saffron, sweet cane and cinnamon.

It has been suggested that part of saffron’s magical property is thought to be its enhancement of “lust” via certain neurotransmitters that stimulate libido or erogenous zones. Saffron may also lower blood pleasure and stimulate respiration.

The parts used for culinary purposes are the stigma or style, the female sexual organs of the flower. There are three stigma on any one flower, so it takes 150,000 flowers to produce one kilogram of dried saffron, making it the most expensive spice in the world. Iran and Spain are the world’s largest producer of this flower (part of the Iris family Iridaceae) accounting for 80% of the global crop.

While their findings support the use of foods and plants for sexual enhancement, the authors urge caution. “Currently, there is not enough evidence to support the widespread use of these substances as effective aphrodisiacs,” Marcone said. “More clinical studies are needed to better understand the effects on humans.”

More eco–sexuality news:

The GINK Manifesto: Childless, Loud and Proud

April is Green Sex Toy Month

“Love Begins with L” Eco-Sexy Condom Company Empowers Women

Tinamarie is a regular contributor to Follow her @ModernLoveMuse. She blogs at

:: Photo via Arpana Sanjay

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10 thoughts on “World’s Most Expensive Spicy Aphrodisiac: It Really Works!”

  1. Smith says:

    You are welcome on that one. Here is a picture of how labor intensive it is to produce high quality saffron:
    ( picture shows Iranian workers picking saffron filaments for packing, it is almost have a feel of eating a kind of jewelery rather than food).

  2. Chris says:

    If you are looking for 100% pure ginseng direct from the farmer in either capsule or whole root format, check out:

  3. Awesome information Smith!

  4. Smith says:

    The best quality saffron is from Iran which produces over two third of world’s saffron. The added benefit of buying Iranian saffron is that they are not adulterated like Spanish Saffron since it is cheaper than Spanish one (labor costs are much lower in Iran, and Saffron production is very labor intensive as the flower stigmas have to be removed by hand). But still at over 2500 dollars a kilo it is very very expensive. Viagra wins on money ground, but a strong saffron tea with a Saffron cake might be more healthier since it also has strong anti-oxidant properties too (for both males and females).

  5. Buddy says:

    A glass of wine and a back rub are much cheaper and much more reliable.

    1. Buddy, you are lucky!

  6. Thanks Juan. Yes, there’s a problem with saffron being altered because it’s so expensive. Thanks for that resource. Also, people should note that not all forms are safe. There’s a copy cat bloom that’s actually toxic. Bottom line: know thy source.

    @Maurice – funny you should mention that. If I recall, the authors reported that spanish fly doesn’t pan out, scientifically speaking, as an aphrodisiac.

  7. Maurice Picow says:

    In my day they called the stuff “Spanish Fly”, and guys used to slip a little of it in their date’s coke. As far as it actually working, that’s another matter.

  8. Just make sure you do not use Spanish saffron and if you do make sure you have it HPLC analysis tested. It turns out that Spanish “saffron” exporters shipped in 2010 190, of “saffron” at a value of $64,000,000.00 divide into 190,000 kg it comes to $336 kg. In 2010 Spanish saffron sold for $3,500 E and Iranian for $2,550kg. The figures are from Spanish Ministry of Agriculture Fisheries and Tourism. Read more The Telegraph, Spanish Saffron Scandal Fiona Govan, Madrid 4:52PM GMT 31 Jan 2011. Who are they kidding? At $336 kg is adulterated with artificial colors. We sent 4 Spanish “saffron” samples to the laboratory and all 4 came back with artificial colors, we have the reports and so does the Ministry in Spain. So if you are looking for PURE unadulterated saffron for culinary or any other need check our site. Juan J. San Mames, President. Vanilla, Saffron Imports. [email protected] USA.

  9. So maybe that’s why Donovan sang: I’m just mad about saffron!!

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