Sexy Herbs: The Aphrodisiacal Power of Truffles + Cilantro

I recently began a resurrection of sorts, writing stories in the vein of Cocktails & Conversations from the Astral Plane for Devour

In the sample below you'll eavesdrop on three strangers as their night evolves into risqué exchanges involving truffles and cilantro. Many thanks to Clive Watson of Triple Sequitur for helping this come to life, and Sam Thompson for introducing me to the Chicago Fizz.
 –Dr. Otto Wilhelm Thomé Flora von Deutschland, 1885

Truffle sosommé (so-sue-mé)

Joel Finsel 

“It is possible to stand around with a cocktail in one’s hand and talk with everyone, which means with no one.” —Jerzy Kosinski

Cast in the piano glow of fading candles, the end of the evening lingered alive in specks of conversation as I swept the floor among the gimlet-eyed. Hiding behind my work, I made my eavesdropping rounds. One woman, who’d out-wined her friend four glasses to two, repeatedly insisted in a voice meant to shout down a crowd of naysayers, “No. No. No. In tantric sex, your heartbeats need to match up…”

A gray-haired couple sat leaning forward over the bar, each with an arm around the other, whispering to each other. Every now and then the woman giggled and his chuckle would chirp shortly after. They reminded me of a teenage romance that could never be, finally finding fruit.

Keeping on, I locked in around a group of three: two men and a woman. All strangers initially, each arrived during the slow build up to the 7:30 grind four or five drinks/hours ago. The woman worked in film—costumes, I’d guess. The older gentleman, who’d bought the last bottle, consulted corporations. The younger gent in a bow-tie, now loosened, hailed from lawyer stock. Each placed dinner orders before the dining room began to bulge, forcing upon us their overflow of guests. Service slowed as drink tickets piled up, but these three managed to land ahead of the curve and developed a lax camaraderie.

“Raw egg?!” the woman asked, scanning our cocktail list. Both men turned toward her at the same time, filling her up.

“The Chicago Fizz was a fog-cutter,” I explained, “a gloom-lifter, a corpse-reviver.  People drank Fizzes to resurrect the morning-after.”

“I’ll try one,” she said, and the men congratulated her, each with his own story of crazy things consumed on the road. Hours later, having come into their cups, they’d broke new ground over the aphrodisiacal powers of cilantro. Here’s what I collected in hurried scribbles on a cocktail napkin found wadded up in my pocket the morning after:

“Your sosommé was soup,” she said, nodding to the older gentleman. “And mine was raw tomato. What’s yours?”

The younger man leaned forward, then sat back, as if battling with something in his own mind, before he finally said, “Truffles.” 

His small audience made outraged faces.

Feeling the need to defend himself, he sat up straight, eyes bulging. “Here’s why: First, they’re all farmed by female pigs.”

“Yeah,” the woman said. “And they’re delicious!”

The older gentleman nodded. “My wife and I have paid $50 a plate for black truffle risotto and it was incredible!”

The younger shook his head. “I find something downright repulsive about them. Everyone treats them like this awesome delicacy, but they really just smell like…”

“What?” she asked.

“Think of it this way,” he back-pedaled. “Aside from the way they look, truffles grow two-to-three feet underground in the gnarled roots of oaks. Female pigs must have great snouts to find them. But why are they attracted to them in the first place? Because truffles contain the same chemical produced in the male boars’ sex glands.”

He had their attention now. “But that’s not even the freakiest part. Turns out the same musky substance is produced in human sex glands. It’s actually secreted from our armpits.”

Downing a large sip of wine, the woman’s eyes widened.

“It’s true,” the older man said. “It’s amazing how close our genetic make-up is to pigs.”

“That’s crazy!” she said, holding back her outrage. “You’re basically saying we like truffles so much because they remind us of our own B. O.?

“So-sue-me!” the young guy said, lifting his arms up triumphantly. “And it gets even weirder.”

“How so?”

“OK, only the females search for truffles…”


Seeing where he was leading her, the older gentleman cut in. “So this would have you believe that male humans who like truffles, on some primordial level, are attracted to other men, since the chemical comes from the sex glands of other males.”

Uproarious laughter covered my retreat.

“Yes,” the younger man said. “I smell truffles and it’s unctuous; it is of the sex—and not the kind of sex I want to be on board with.”

“It’s musky and deep,” the woman agreed. “And it’s kinda like….”

“Yeah,” he continued, “and to me, everything connoted by female sex, I’m good with—like when I metaphorized cunnilingus, it was in the direction of snack foods. There are a lot of parallels. Salt-and-vinegar chips are called crotch-chips for a reason…”

“Are you saying that a woman tastes like salt and vinegar?” she asked. “Because that’s what men taste like, mustard and vinegar.”

“But wouldn’t that depend on the woman,” the older man broke in. “And on consumption?”

“Of course, if they’ve got something gross coming on….” she started, confused.

“No,” he said. “I mean, if you stop eating meat, you start to smell it on everyone.”

“Really?” the younger asked.

“Yeah. Every time you meet someone, you can tell whether or not they eat meat.”

“Get your man some cilantro and pineapple,” the younger guy chimed in. “I hear that makes us smell better.”

“Oh, no, my man doesn’t need pineapple,” she said. “I’m 42 and he’s 26. He’s just fine the way he is.”

His joke lingered. “Just in case you ever need to turn up the volume…”

“No, the speakers are just fine! But in the long term, am I gonna marry this guy? No. He’s a chapter in my book. My sister’s always saying, ‘Why are you dating this guy? Sure he treats you great, but it’s never going to work out.’ But I’m like, ‘The chapter’s not over yet. Right now I’m on page 355. It’s not over until 560. That’s how I live my life.’”

“That’s a hell of a chapter!” the older man exclaimed.

“He’s been a great read! I live my life by sharing it with different people. Sure, I have my core group of friends, but some of the characters change. That’s the way I am. And my sister can’t wrap her mind around it because she’s been with the same guy forever and she’s got her kids and her house, and all those people are the same, and they all make sense.”

“It’s a different world,” the younger one said. In his downcast eye I caught a glimpse of whoever lived on the other side of his wedding band back home.

“My sister can’t understand why I don’t want what she has. It’s not that I don’t want a husband and a family, it’s just that I haven’t gotten to that chapter yet. So, right now, I’m having a great time with a younger guy who likes to go climbing and do hot yoga. I’m having fun. He brings out the best in me. Wants me to be healthy and strong. Be vibrant and huff cilantro.”

Laughs again all around.

The older man raised his glass. “Here’s to huffing cilantro.”

“He’s the guy who makes me want to sniff out the truffles. And six months from now, I’ll probably be dating someone else who likes to read, and sit back and watch TV, but right now, I’m not in that mode. So—wait, I take mine back. I like younger guys with hard bodies who challenge me, so-sue-me!”

Cilantro Sour (right)
1 egg white
1.5 oz. cilantro-infused vodka*
½ oz. fresh lemon juice
½ oz. fresh lime juice
½ oz. fresh orange juice
¾ oz. demerara simple syrup

* Empty about a cup of vodka from a full bottle to make room for 1-2 cups of fresh, rinsed cilantro. Allow the herbs to extract their flavor into the vodka, like a tincture, shaking the unrefrigerated bottle every few hours. After a day or two, try a little.
Combine ingredients in small tin shaker and dry shake without ice to emulsify the egg white.

Add ice. Shake again, vigorously, for 20 seconds until the tin begins to ice over on the outside. Strain over fresh ice in a highball glass. Garnish with a sprig of fresh cilantro and a lime-peel twist big enough to spritz the oils around the glass rim and surface of the cocktail.

Chicago Fizz (left)
1 oz. aged rum
1 oz. Port wine
½ oz. fresh lemon juice
one raw egg white
2 oz. club soda or seltzer

Combine ingredients in small tin shaker and dry shake without ice to emulsify the egg white.

Add ice. Shake again, vigorously, for 20 seconds until the tin begins to ice over on the outside. Strain over fresh ice in a highball glass. Garnish with a lemon twist big enough to spritz the oils around the glass rim and surface of the cocktail.

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