Illustration by Aran Darling

Vanilla for Valentine’s Day?

Forget oysters and fancy chocolates. Vanilla is key to primal attraction

Your raging middle school hormones might have had less to do with your actual crush and more to do with the Warm Vanilla Sugar scent on their skin. While sickeningly sweet vanilla perfumes are widely remembered as the post-gym class “spray” of choice amongst the junior high set, your tendency to love the smell associated with frosting is hardly unique.

Native to Central America, vanilla was first enjoyed by the Totonac Indians, who were forced to bring vanilla beans as tribute to the Aztecs (who conquered the Totonacs in the 15th century). Prior to that, the Ancient Greeks burnt styrax, an essential oil that smells like vanilla, as a religious offering to the Gods. Styrax was also revealed to be one of the major components of the ancient Egyptians’ luxurious mummification process, meaning the Pharaohs were laid to rest with a hint of vanilla scent.

Today, vanilla plants are grown all over the world. And what they produce pretty much drives all men, women and animals wild.

According to our resident neurobiologist and animal sex expert Jim Pfaus, vanilla can’t be used as a scent identifier during his lab research because animals are too biased toward it.

“Whether the vanilla was paired with a sweet solution or pure water, animals consistently demonstrated a preference for vanilla over the other scents used in testing, such as lemon and almond,” Pfaus explains. Just using vanilla in his research could distract the animals and throw off the results of an entire experiment.

So if you’re looking for any last-minute Valentine’s Day gifts, try a French Vanilla candle. It’s primal scent cannot be denied.

Tierney Finster is an Editor at MEL. She previously wrote about how once arousal is at play, condoms often aren’t.

For more MEL, follow us on Medium or subscribe to the newsletter.