Your memories play a huge part in the way we taste and smell, and your favourite things to eat and drink may well have been influenced by your experiences as a child. Here, we explore the link between memory and taste and why your most well-loved wine may trace its roots back to your favourite things to eat and drink when you were a kid. Read on to learn more!
What was your favourite meal as a kid? Did you ever have a bad experience with food? How about your go-to drink after school? Would you still drink it today?
Although our taste typically grows more sophisticated with age, there’s a chance many of us still have a soft spot in our hearts for things like instant noodles or bright red fizzy drinks. This is because we associate them with the easy, care-free days of our childhood, and just the smell or taste of them is enough to mentally teleport back to afternoons at nan’s or your first school disco.
So why do the tastes of some foods elicit such strong memories, and do memories shape our preferences for wine today?
Taste and Smell — It’s All the Same
First, let’s look at how we taste food from a scientific perspective. The nose and mouth are connected by a passage that leads up to an area in the nasal cavity packed with olfactory receptors. While your taste buds are in charge of detecting the chemicals in food, the olfactory receptors detect odour molecules that reach it from inside your mouth.
Both of these signals get sent to the brain where they combine create the perception of a taste, and while it may seem like the receptors on your tongue are doing all the hard work, if you’ve ever suffered through a meal with a head cold, you’ll know how important smell is to the overall perception of taste.
Now back to memories. Neuroscience has shown that the brain ties memories to both smell and taste, particularly that of food. This is likely because of the way the brain is structured: The olfactory bulb, where signals from the olfactory receptors are sent, is located near the amygdala, the brain’s centre for emotional responses. Likewise, the olfactory nerve is near the hippocampus, which is—as any black cab driver who has passed the Knowledge could tell you—where the brain stores memory.
The olfactory system is so closely tied to the brain structures responsible for memory and emotion that damage to these structures has been found to harm ability to smell, and one early symptom of Parkinson’s Disease is also a loss of smell and taste.
Smell, Taste and Memory
But why is memory so strongly connected to smell and taste? Some scientists hypothesise that this connection was originally designed for survival. Known as conditioned taste aversion, it made ancient humans remember and develop a physical response to foods they had tried and that had made them ill in the past. This helped them avoid them in the future and avoid sickness or poisoning.
You may have personally experienced conditioned taste aversion if you’ve ever gone off tequila or Jägermeister after having had one too many. The same is true if you were sick as a child after a particular food or meal—your
Fortunately, this phenomenon works both ways, which is why tucking into a bag of Monster Munch or a warm brownie can immediately bring back childhood traditions and other fond memories. Sweet food and drink in particular may also create and trigger memories more readily, because they activate the reward system in our brains.
So, what does this mean for wine? Some people may find particular wines especially delicious because they sense flavours and aromas that they have an affinity for through happy memories. Fans of white wine may be tuning into a minerality that reminds them of wet pavement after a summer rain, while some lovers of reds may relish the dried fruit flavours that channel memories of Christmas pudding or summer blackberry harvests.
Enhancing Your Wine Memories
To see what kind of memories you can discover in the flavour of a wine, it’s important to drink it in the right way so that it reaches your olfactory receptors effectively through both your nose and mouth. Our two most important tips for this are:
- Don’t overfill your glass! Leaving enough space in a wine glass helps capture the aroma in the bowl so you can smell it better.
- Take small sips and move the wine around in your mouth before swallowing it (you don’t have to swish it like the experts, but at least give it a swirl).
Both of these techniques allow more of the wine’s aroma to hit the olfactory receptors both through your nose and your mouth so you can enjoy a broader range of flavours with every sip and get closer to unlocking those happy memories.If you’re not sure what wines to start with, try exploring both red and white in our Grape People Mixed Case. Or go for a natural wine—the complex and exciting flavours make for a pleasant surprise that could bring back some memories you’d never expect to find in a wine.