Friday, November 23, 2012

A Sense Of Smell

Sense & Sensibility

"Memories, imagination, old sentiments, and associations are more readily reached through the sense of smell than through any other channel."

Oliver Wendell Holmes 

Beef Brisket: The smell of a juicy roast beef brisket,with potatoes and vegetables, only improves its taste.
Photo Credit: Evan Sklar/Getty
Courtesy: Esquire

Mr. Holmes is right. Of all the senses, smell holds the most memories. Some individuals can remember the smell of certain events as if he were there now. Smell is not only indicative of time, but also of place. The smell of smoke, for example, is pleasant at a camp-fire during the summer, or when grilling hot dogs, hamburgers or steaks on the barbecue, but not inside your kitchen when toast or a pot roast has burnt to a charcoal crisp.

Some persons can enter into a period  of time from decades past by sniffing a whiff of a particular fragrance, a perfume or a cologne. I always love the smell of a freshly mown lawn; I am not sure why, but it makes me happy, as does the scent of fragrant flowers. So does the smell of certain foods, like a chicken soup cooking on the stove-top; chocolate chip cookies baking in the oven; or a roast brisket with potatoes in the oven. Or a beet borscht with dill or baked salmon with Teriyaki sauce.

For some, if not many persons, the smell alone is so powerful that it can get the saliva juices going, beginning the gustatory experience. It's a sure bet to say that those who love food also love particular smells and relish them. That being said, you undoubtedly have your own pleasant memories of smells that draw you into a good place—a feeling of bliss. The company you keep and whether the meal was a particularly joyous one can and often influences the memory of it and the sensory experience. (e.g., I can still recall some exceptional meals I have eaten over the years, including one of a rack of lamb that was cooked to perfection.)

So, what is it about smell that makes such connections? Well, science offers an explanation, which makes perfect sense, and is easy enough to understand. In an article published in  PsychCentral, Rick Nauert writes about some noteworthy research at the Weizmann Institute in Israel:
Weizmann Institute scientists posited that the key might not necessarily lie in childhood, but rather in the first time a smell is encountered in the context of a particular object or event. In other words, the initial association of a smell with an experience will somehow leave a unique and lasting impression in the brain.
Given that many pleasant food experiences, and others such as the smell of a freshly mown lawn or the smell of fragrant flowers, occur in early childhood, the connection is made and sealed in the memory early in our history. And once these memories and associations are stored, they can be brought up for future use.


  1. Taste and smell are linked. And the combination led Proust to a sequence of memories that inspired "Remembrance of Things Past," his set of novels--his life's work--after tasting and smelling a madeleine dipped in tea.

    1. Thank you--I had forgotten about Proust's wonderful work.


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