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Forbidden Friday: Lust

If you've got a hot date tonight, you'll definitely want to read the following tidbits from our book Forbidden Knowledge: A Wickedly Smart Guide to History's Naughtiest Bits -- and then get yourself to an exotic foods market:

World's Strangest Aphrodisiacs

CAT1048.jpgFrog Legs: Sometimes you can have too much of a wood -- er, good -- thing. In the case of an unfortunate group of French Foreign Legion soldiers in North Africa, frog legs proved to be such an effective enhancer of "erectile function" that priapism -- a prolonged, painful erection that will not go away -- ensued. Subsequently, researchers from American universities found that the frog legs contained enormous amounts of cantharidin, better known as Spanish fly. It turned out the frogs had been eating meloid beetles, one of the main sources of the legendary aphrodisiac, eventually making things hard for the soldiers.

Two more love potions after the hump -- er, jump.

Sweet potatoes: Shortly after Columbus made landfall in 1492, the natives of Hispaniola introduced him to the sweet potato, a member of the morning glory family. Spanish colonizers soon spread the sweet potato lovin' to Asia and Europe, the popularity to cultivate it driven in part by its reputation as an aphrodisiac. In Health's Improvement, a medical guide from 1595, Dr. Thomas Muffett wrote that sweet potatoes increase not only libido, but apparently also the incidence of flatulence, claiming that they "nourish mightily... engendering much flesh, blood, and seed, but withal encreasing wind and lust."

Unagi: Served raw in sushi or cooked as part of an udon (noodle) dish, sea eel, or unagi, is reputed in Japan to be an aphrodisiac. The association likely springs from a rather obvious similarity between the shape of the eel and, as usual, an erect penis. Of course, there might be some science behind the belief as well. Unagi is high in vitamin A, which may help sexual function. Although unagi is an increasingly popular item on American sushi menus, ost diners are unaware of its erotic associations in Japanese cuisine.

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Stradivarius Violins Get Their Distinctive Sound By Mimicking the Human Voice
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Italian violinist Francesco Geminiani once wrote that a violin's tone should "rival the most perfect human voice." Nearly three centuries later, scientists have confirmed that some of the world's oldest violins do in fact mimic aspects of the human singing voice, a finding which scientists believe proves "the characteristic brilliance of Stradivari violins."

Using speech analysis software, scientists in Taiwan compared the sound produced by 15 antique instruments with recordings of 16 male and female vocalists singing English vowel sounds, The Guardian reports. They discovered that violins made by Andrea Amati and Antonio Stradivari, the pioneers of the instrument, produce similar "formant features" as the singers. The resonance frequencies were similar between Amati violins and bass and baritone singers, while the higher-frequency tones produced by Stradivari instruments were comparable to tenors and contraltos.

Andrea Amati, born in 1505, was the first known violin maker. His design was improved over 100 years later by Antonio Stradivari, whose instruments now sell for several million dollars. "Some Stradivari violins clearly possess female singing qualities, which may contribute to their perceived sweetness and brilliance," Hwan-Ching Tai, an author of the study, told The Guardian.

Their findings were published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. A 2013 study by Dr. Joseph Nagyvary, a professor emeritus at Texas A&M University, also pointed to a link between the sounds produced by 250-year-old violins and those of a female soprano singer.

According to Vox, a blind test revealed that professional violinists couldn't reliably tell the difference between old violins like "Strads" and modern ones, with most even expressing a preference for the newer instruments. However, the value of these antique instruments can be chalked up to their rarity and history, and many violinists still swear by their exceptional quality.

[h/t The Guardian]

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