It’s funny… when I eat feta cheese, I am often fondly reminded of my childhood friend, Georgia Saffos.
Not because she’s Greek and so is feta cheese, but because she was the first person that introduced me to the flavor of that cheese. It was salty, creamy, crumbly, and smelled different than the other cheeses I grew up eating. It smelled like it was from a different type of animal.
And, it was!
I grew up eating cow-based cheeses like cheddar, swiss, jarlsberg, blue, and Monterey jack, and feta was from sheep, or goat. Needless to say, it had a different smell and taste. And, I LOVED it!
Food, specifically the aromas in food, can trigger the limbic system, and our emotional brain.
The olfactory bulb, and your ability to smell, is part of the brain’s limbic system, and can bring up memories of people, places, events or anything else that was happening when you first took a whiff of a new food.
“The olfactory bulb has intimate access to the amygdala, which processes emotion, and the hippocampus, which is responsible for associative learning.”
That means when we smell something (especially, for the first time), we often associate it with a person, place, or thing. It’s hard-wired into our learning and survival systems from infancy to adulthood.
Any aroma can trigger a memory. But, our ability to taste food is directly connected to our sense of smell. So, it’s one of the reasons why the smell of food, in general, can bring up memories.
Next time you’re sitting to your favorite meal, ask yourself:
- Why do I love eating this food?
- Was something good happening when I first tasted it?
- Was I sitting with someone that I love when I ate it?
- Was I feeling safe and happy at that time?
The opposite can happen as well. Some food aromas can trigger traumatic or not-so-good memories.
An ex-boyfriend told me he did not like to eat anything with basil in it. He said his mom put the herb into everything!
He didn’t have a good relationship with his mom, so his aversion to that specific culinary herb is understandable. He associated the smell (and taste) of basil with unpleasant feelings about his mom.
Do any foods or aromas bring up any memories for you, either good or bad?
I’m sure you could list at least one!
Take a whiff at your next meal and see what or who comes up for you.
Please share your memory in the comments below.