Fake aphrodisiacs are nothing new.

For longer than anyone has believed in Aphrodite, much of the world has been obsessed with rhino horns and tiger testicles and toxic beetles—most have proven to be placebos at best. More recently, Western civilization has had to confront the inefficacy of cheap, mail-order Viagra.

It's a good way to get a headache, but not a very effective way to avoid a priapism.

Still, whatever floats your boat. Far be it from SFR to burst the bubble of any man who believes that doing rails of rhino horn or shoveling suppositories of South American Viagra will cause his bubble to be extra, um, vigorous. And we would never get between anyone and their long, dark, tumescent chocolate bar (unless we were invited).

But the world of food-based aphrodisiacs is more inspiring by far than the huckstery alchemy of powders and potions or the frantic falsehoods of pharmaceutical flops. One may argue there is no scientific evidence for the avocado's reputation as an aphrodisiac—despite the name being derived from the Aztec term for "testicle tree"—but there is no denying its voluptuous and sensual nature or its potential beauty, especially when used in combination with other flavors, colors and textures.

Indeed, eating can be so sensual an act that any well-prepared or carefully placed edible may be credibly elevated to the status of aphrodisiac. Some foodstuffs are too obvious or too garish to be used to great effect by most of us—it takes a food porn master to successfully incorporate a banana or a taco for example—but there's a reason why we've developed a pantheon of reliable food fetishes. Some foods have genuine properties that trigger the libido, bolster the body's natural functions or finish with a flourish, while others have enough beauty, lore or pure flavor to reliably push us from hungry to horny.

Even foods with proven arousal ingredients tend to have a character or flavor that can be imitated in a pinch. In other words, there's nothing wrong with a placebo—as long as it works.

So just in time for Valentine's Day, SFR presents a short list of favored fornication-related foods, assesses their effects and then tells you what to do when you don't have them handy.

The oyster is at the top of the list. It's got the texture of bodily fluids, the appearance of a beckoning sex organ and it happens to be loaded with zinc. Zinc is a proven testosterone-builder, meaning that oysters can ratchet up the randy-ness level for both genders—at least over time.

If your local oyster bar is shuttered and the seafood shelves at the local market have already been shorn, well, an oyster is tough to duplicate. Amavi chef and owner David Sellers recommends switching gears and rolling around with some hot-buttered lobster. But most chefs agree that a bit of texture and flavor can go a long way. Try using a careful ration of seaweed, possible with a tiny flake of pink Himalayan salt. If you want to go further, hide the seaweed in a thin sheet of cippolini onion and put the whole construction over ice and embedded in aspic.

Chocolate is another apparently genuine aphrodisiac. It smooths the production of serotonin in the brain, predisposes its eaters to a sense of naughtiness (at least in some cultures) and, according to Italian "researchers," there is a correlation between daily chocolate consumption and daily sex.

When you forget to shop for chocolates for your cherie and there ain't even a dusting of ancient, carnal cocoa powder in the cupboard, chocolate offers as distinct a challenge as oysters when looking for a substitute. You won't fool a diehard fan of pure dark chocolate, but the flavor most Americans identify with chocolate is really a mixture of spices with vanilla at the counterintuitive center. Hippies can turn to carob, but the rest of us will have to take a cue from "white chocolate"—which is not chocolate at all—and concoct a confection from lard (in place of cocoa butter), sugar, milk and vanilla. Add any additional spices you like and control the coloring at will.

Nothing says authentic aphrodisiac like increased blood flow. Thus all manner of hot peppers are capable of inducing a little extra oomph when it comes to encouraging coitus.

When the larder is bereft of fresh and dried peppers, and nary a powder or a packet of flakes can be found, you'll have to turn away from the capsaicin and look for alternative endorphin boosters. The obvious candidates are garlic, ginger, radish, horseradish and other mustards. Another option is to dress up your sexy servings with spicy greens like watercress, wild arugula and daikon sprouts. If you can get your hands on some nasturtium flowers, you'll be in like Flynn.

Pesky scientists view skeptically the idea that the pumpkin seed is a natural female Viagra. However, the Chicago-based Smell & Taste Treatment and Research Foundation claims the scent of Thanksgiving-style pumpkin pie has been found to increase penile blood flow by up to 40 percent.

The foundation also claims that women are aroused by fresh-baked pumpkin. Aside from wondering how and with what tools these tests were conducted, we're also wondering how to simulate a pumpkin when you need to stimulate a pumpkin. This one's a no-brainer—many kinds of squash are practically interchangeable, especially when they're getting dosed with cinnamon, vanilla, cream and lots and lots of
butter. When it comes to measuring a successful substitution we suggest, um, a junior-sized sphygmomanometer cuff?

Il Piatto chef and owner Matt Yohalem says his favorite aphrodisiacs are oysters, sea urchins and ripe mangoes. It's beyond the scope of a land-lubber's publication like SFR to suggest techniques for constructing a fake sea urchin, but Yohalem says any aphrodisiac can be replaced with extra virgin olive oil. Lots and lots of olive oil.

But then Yohalem gets sappy and serious. A sexy and sensual meal doesn't require any special foods or any kitchen kung fu, he says, "the key ingredient is love."