Food has a mysterious way of transporting us back in time. If you are like most, certain foods or food smells instantly make you think of your childhood days, that unforgettable summer vacation by the sea, or even your first kiss.
We tend to make a connection with eating certain foods and specific memories. It might be the smell of baking cookies that makes you think of holiday seasons gone by or the smell of stale beer that brings back memories of your freshman year at college.
But how does it work? How does food rekindle such evocative memories?
The relationship between food and emotions is not something that food marketers have dreamed up; it's real.
Scent receptors in our nose are linked directly to our limbic system, the most primitive part of the brain, which is thought to be the epicenter of our emotions. Smells are transmitted to the hippocampus, where cerebral recognition occurs, but only after the deepest and darkest parts of our brains have been stimulated. By the time we can guess a specific smell or taste, like cinnamon, for example, its spicy aroma has already galvanised the limbic system and can activate a hard-core emotional response.[i]
Since our memories and emotions are so intimately tied to the senses involved with eating or smelling certain foods, it seems to make perfect sense that we drop by our old favourite hometown pizzeria; or why certain foods become staples on birthdays or holidays.
It allows you to revisit the 'old days' anywhere by eating the food or foods that are most closely associated with those particular happy times in our life.
Let's look at the top 4 foods most likely to evoke nostalgic memories:
1 - Fresh-baked Cookies
Just walking by a bakery is enough to make us toss that well-meaning salad into the trash and opt instead for a chocolate chip cookie the size of our head.
Fresh-baked cookies bring back memories of our childhood, being at home with mom or grandma, and feeling totally safe and secure. Few argue that a warm, gooey cookie is the epitome of immediate pleasure.
2 - Bacon
Nothing makes a mouth water quite like the smell of bacon.
Many people think of bacon as being synonymous with the weekend since there's usually not enough time to cook it during the workweek. It's a treat reserved for lazy Saturdays or a laid-back brunch with your mates. Regardless, few foods inspire as much enthusiasm and excitement as bacon. It actually has an extensive enough fan base to justify festivals around the world.
3 - Chocolate
Few words can describe the demonstrative enthusiasm people feel while eating chocolate.
For many, it has a cherished spot in their personal memory banks: the chocolate eggs or bunnies at Easter, the many-layered birthday cake, or the Valentine's Day heart that could only mean somebody loves you.
Tryptophan, found in dark chocolate, helps the brain make serotonin, which in turn makes us happier[ii]. Hands down the best cure for a bad mood.
4 - Ice Cream
Ice cream has the power to put a smile on the face of even the grouchiest of us. It has a way of transporting us back to the days of our most fun childhood experiences.
When we eat ice cream, our brain remembers those upbeat feelings we experienced years ago, which is why we associate the treat with happiness. Next time you are feeling blue, turn to a scoop or two of your favourite flavour, and you'll be on your way to feeling better in no time.
When you read the science behind food and emotion and then consider the unforgettable memory that comes from that first bite, it's easy to come to a realisation: the taste of certain foods might be fleeting, but their effect on us is anything but.
Don’t under estimate the power that good food has over our emotions and the ability it has to turn ordinary customers into raving fans.
[i] https://harvardpress.typepad.com/hup_publicity/2012/05/food-and-memory-john-allen.html, accessed 24 February 2021.
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