Mulled cider. A baking ham. Gingerbread cooling on the counter. We all have scents that conjure up holiday memories with a vivid force no other sense can match. Why is that?
NPR spoke with a university professor who has researched the connection between our sense of smell and our memories and she revealed some surprising facts about scent, our emotions and the odor of stinky cheese.
Dr. Rachel Herz, professor of psychiatry and human behavior at Brown University, was interested in the commonly-held belief that smells are the best memory cues and decided to explore exactly what "the best" means when it comes to memories. It turns out scent-triggered memories are not necessarily more accurate, just more emotional. Smells from the past bring back emotions from the past, which gives memories a vividness that we equate with being better.
So the smell of holiday foods play a role in how we will remember the holidays, but the setting in which we experience a meal also factors into how we smell and therefore taste it. Herz discovered that context can dramatically affect our perception of smells, so that a waft of pungent cheese while sitting in a French restaurant is a pleasant odor while the same scent emanating from a dumpster is anything but. If you've ever wondered why food smells are so powerful and so personal, we highly recommend reading or listening to this interview.
• Check it out: Remembering the Scent of a Meal - NPR
Which holiday food scents trigger your strongest memories?