Recently, she wrote an article about aphrodisiacs. But not the stereotypical aphrodisiac — a food or drug used to stimulate sexual desire.
Benjamin was talking about food as a sensual experience.
"An aphrodisiac — it can have several different meanings," she said. "Aphrodisiacs enhance romantic and sexual love. When we speak of an aphrodisiac, it could be any food — anything that is really sensual or the taste is really good or the texture is really smooth. In our case, we focus on botanicals, since that's what we work with."
These botanicals — plant-based foods with strong flavors, such as chocolate, ginger, vanilla, nutmeg and clove —are traditionally used to enhance the flavor of food, she said.
"Sexual foods are more in the presentation and the aura, the ambiance that goes with them. In the past, people would have used ginger as an aphrodisiac because it inspired love," Benjamin said. "Now, did it really inspire love? Is there (a chemical) in chocolate that can make you feel loved? Maybe not, but there is the sensual texture and the flavor, so it functions as an aphrodisiac."
A century ago, she said, a man would give a woman a box of chocolates as a part of courtship. Chocolate might not be an aphrodisiac, Benjamin said, but it served a purpose.
"It was incumbent on the man to give a woman a voluptuous box of chocolate," she said, "and chocolates at that time were shaped in some sensual shapes, such as roses."
Most people who step into Benjamin's shop, Cool Confectionaries, don't come for aphrodisiacs. They come for history.
We focus on American history," she said. "We have (the recipe of) the first brittle in history. ... We go all the way up through the 1940s and '50s."
She tries to avoid European-based candies and sweets, instead making and selling candies popular in the New World. Cool Confectionaries has sweets with roots in black and American Indian cultures in addition to Colonial American sweets.
One unusual sweet — unusual in America, at least — is candied flower petals.
"There are a lot of stories associated with aphrodisiacs and other foods. Take violet petals," Benjamin said. "Napoleon, as you know, was acclaimed by the French. His great love was Josephine. She loved candied violet petals. So the violet became a romantic flower. People made sugared violet petals."
Benjamin sells candied violet and rose petals, and she gives samples to customers. Most people have never tried a candied petal.
"One of the coolest parts of having a store is having people eat samples right in front of you," Benjamin said with a laugh. "(Many people) can't imagine eating a violet petal. They'll eat artificial-violet-flavored foods or rose-shaped foods, but they won't eat a violet petal. It's really funny."
For a person who wanted to make a sensuous treat for a sweetheart, Benjamin recommended chocolate truffles. She sells truffles at her shop.
"Without stretching it too far, sugar and confections are deeply tied to who we are culturally," she said. "When I tell people these are aphrodisiac, they smile and they buy it. But there's something we're unsettled about: On the one hand, we like being bad. On the other hand, we hate being bad. But the truth is ... we want a sensual life."