Have you ever smelled a particular scent or tasted some specific flavour that immediately took you back to a place or experience in the past? I did all the time but only for some specific smell and taste. There is an actual scientific explanation to that, but I’ll get to it later.
Here is my list of specific smell or taste that never fail to remind of different places I’ve been too.
- Spearmint and Australia
Every time I have a spearmint chewing gum, the first bite would always remind me of Australia. If I try to remember why, I think it was because when I first arrived in Sydney the plane landed in the morning and a lot of people started eating chewing gum to freshen up. It was also in the middle of winter when I arrived and as I walked out of the airport gate, the cold wind blew my face and I felt like I could smell the mint in the air.
2. Hash Brown and Sydney
Eating hash browns would always remind me of Sydney. I left for Sydney in 1999 and at that time I had never been abroad and never known about any other way of cooking than our food here in Kupang or Indonesia generally. I had my first burger with hash brown when I was in Sydney and the taste stayed forever in my brain. Until now, the first bite of a hash brown would always take me back to those moments in time.
3. Cleaned laundry and Japan
This one is unique. Japan has always been my favourite destination for vacation. What I love the most from travelling is going through all the planning, travelling, seeing new places, getting lost and confused together with my wife and just the two of us together. In our travels, my wife would plan when and where to wash our laundry. She would make sure that we were booked at an accommodation with a washing machine. So in some of the evenings, she would wash our clothes before we sleep and the fresh smell of a laundry from washing machine or drier would soothe me from our long walk that day. Now, I always associate the smell of the cleaned laundry with our time in Japan.
4. Crispy fried chicken and Davao Philippines
One word Jollibee (https://www.jollibee.com.ph/). Yes, you can name all the fried chicken there is in the market, but Jollibee tops them all, better than KFC, let alone McDonald (yes, our McDonald has fried chicken in its menu). What comes close to Jollibee to me, may be Popeyes (https://www.popeyes.com/). If I get to smell or taste a good crispy fried chicken, my brain automatically tells me of the feeling of being at home in Davao, Philippines.
5. Regal Biscuits and childhood
When I was in elementary school, I think between six to seven years old, my mother bought me one big can of Regal biscuits . I loved it so much that I remember going back and forth to have it all the time. Until now, this biscuit still brings me back warm memories of those moments.
6. Milk and Cereal
All the new scholarship students were placed in a temporary accommodation for a few days until they can find a new place on their own. So when I got to Sydney, the University put me in this accommodation at a suburb near Sydney CBD called, St. Leonard. At that time I had about AUD 350 with me, from the money my father gave and from selling my motorcycle. It’s all I had.
I found out later that the accommodation cost me about AUD 40 – 50 per night. I was shocked that all the money I had would be able to take me to live for a couple of months at home at that time, but it would be spent in just less than a week in Sydney.
Just before I settled for the night, a lady knocked on my door and delivered my breakfast for the next day. It was a couple of small boxes of milk and cereals. I was stunned, “Is this breakfast?” I said to myself. That was my first time having cereal and fresh milk for breakfast. I will always remember that moment every time I have fresh milk and cereal now.
Why all these connections?
Ok now here comes the science. Why? why does certain taste or smell remind us of a memory of a place or moment from the past? Here is the summary of it. When we eat the food, we’re not just tasting them, we actually use both senses the smell and the taste, because both oral and nasal cavities are connected. No wonder, the food would taste better if you smell them before you eat as the two are linked!
There is this system called olfactory system, it is the sensory system used for smelling that has more than 12 million smell receptors located throughout the nose and nasal cavity. These receptors collect odor molecules from the air and send electrical signals to a small structure in the brain called the olfactory bulb to be processed. The olfactory bulb and the insular cortex are closely connected to the amygdala, an area involved in emotional learning. The olfactory nerve is similarly close to the hippocampus, one of the most important brain structures for memory. All these connections between the olfactory system and the regions responsible for emotion and memory then help connect these experiences together.
There you go that’s why taste and smell can easily trigger our emotion about certain memories from the past.
How about you? What kind of food or smell that trigger past memories?