The Memory of Smells

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I often find myself comparing new foods to something i've already had. For example, the other day I tasted my friend's juice and said it tasted like cotton candy. But why?

I found a blog written by Jonah Lehrer, talking about smell and memory. One particular paragraph really got my attention... in his post he stated:

"Why is smell so sentimental? One possibility, which is supported by this recent experiment, is that the olfactory cortex has a direct neural link to the hippocampus. In contrast, all of our other senses (sight, touch and hearing) are first processed somewhere else - they go to the thalamus - and only then make their way to our memory center. This helps explain why we're so dependent on metaphors to describe taste and smell. We always describe foods by comparing them to something else, which we've tasted before. ("These madeleines taste just like my grandmother's madeleines!" Or: "These madeleines taste like the inside of a lemon poppy seed cake!") In contrast, we have a rich language of adjectives to describe what we see and hear, which allows us to define the sensory stimulus in lucid detail. As a result, we don't have to lean so heavily on simile and comparison."

Click HERE to read the rest of Lehrer's blog

Now i'm curious as to how some foods can taste like a smell? Have you ever heard anyone say "this tastes like the smell of _______?" For example, the other night I heard someone say "this gin tastes like a Christmas tree," and they obviously don't eat Christmas trees, so they must referring to the smell.



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Whats also interesting is I've noticed how sometimes when I eat something (like "grandma's cooking"), I get a sense of being younger, as if I'm in the place I first formed the memory.

Here's a nice clip from Ratatouille to help illustrate what I mean :)

Its pretty well established that smell and taste work together to inform us about the quality of what we are eating.

Jonah Leherer's point describes why it is difficult to describe smells with language. SInce they are processed more directly by memory circuits they evoke strong associations with events from our past but are less likely to be processed by the language areas of our brain.

Perhaps smell was our first means of communication before language evolved. I am pretty sure this is what my Boston Terrier, Pearle relies on when meeting other dogs.

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This page contains a single entry by zier0052 published on October 9, 2011 10:51 PM.

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