What thoughts come to mind when we look at old photos from feasts? What do we feel if we see a frame in which the birthday man blows out the candles on the cake, surrounded by the rest of the guests of the celebration? A fusion of delicious food, celebration, and people is the perfect recipe for creating powerful food memories.
Most of us have similar memories that are triggered by food. Most often they come from our childhood. It could be sweet treats that Mom gave us to reward us for doing well in school, or lemon cake that has a strong memory of our first culinary failure. All of these food memories are very vivid, sometimes even more vivid than other types of memories.
“Food memories are more emotionally charged than others because they involve all five senses. So when you interact with a stimulant that excites them, it has a powerful effect,”explains Susan Whitbourne, professor of psychological and brain sciences at the University of Massachusetts.
You are not using only sight or taste - you are using all senses, which makes it possible to create a rich palette of memories.
Psychologist and neurologist Hadley Bergstrom, an assistant professor of psychology at Vassar College, has taken this phenomenon a step further. He says that "food memories are the strongest associative memories that can be created." He explains this by a survival tactic called "conditioned reflex aversion to food."
This tactic is formed when you get food poisoning, and as a result, you develop an aversion to the product, dish, or even the restaurant that caused it.
"A conditioned reflexive aversion to food has such a powerful effect that even if you feel sick a few hours after a meal, you will still have extremely strong memories of what kind of food it was and where you ate it," - Bergstrom asserts.
While this is not directly related to our happy childhood memories of food, it nevertheless explains the vividness of such episodes that pop up in memory.
Our feelings and survival tactics are not the only aspects underlying them. The situation - where exactly you were, who was there, why you met - is the final cherry on the cake of nostalgic food-related memories.
“The food episodes we remember are full of nostalgia because of the context of the event, when you cook or eat some food, so the food becomes a symbol of everything that happened,” says Whitbourne. “A lot of childhood memories are not as simple as they seem - they reflect our entire experience of being in the family, eating, and all this takes on the features of symbolism.”
“The very idea of nostalgia,” says Bergstrom, “is that the sauce (for example) is associated not only with delicious pasta, but also with grandma and her house - that's why the food is so strong. All other memory stimuli are associated with the enhancing properties of this delicious pasta sauce. " It is for this reason that Bergstrom uses food in his scientific research on human behavior.
It's the very nature of food memories. They are not based only on bare facts or on our survival instinct, but are also determined by the context - the situation, emotions, other people who were with us at that moment.
Imagine that you are dreaming of making a layer cake according to your grandmother's recipe. Exactly the way she did on holidays - moderately sweet, juicy, and so that the cakes were airy. When the whole family was at the table, you immediately knew when it was time for the holiday tea. Here grandmother arranges cups and dessert plates from a china service. Then comes the turn of the silver spoons, which she carefully stores in the sideboard and takes out only on special occasions. In each plate, the spoon lays down with a quiet, but cheerful ringing. But the most important thing is ahead. Grandma leaves for the kitchen and comes back, carrying a stunning snow-white layer cake in her hands. The children's eyes light up at the table. They start arguing over who will get the first and biggest piece of this long-awaited sweet wonder. But somehow my grandmother always managed to calm everyone down. And finally, in front of you on your plate is your legitimate piece of cake. You still remember so clearly this delicious taste of crispy dough and light cream …
Yes, you know by heart all the ingredients that Grandma used. Remember how many minutes you need to bake the dough in the oven and at what temperature. Time after time you try to cook your granny's favorite culinary masterpiece, but you are constantly disappointed with the result.
Can you guess why it doesn't work? The thing is, you cannot recreate the context in which you ate this sweet treat as a child. Therefore, you will never be satisfied with how a puff cake was made (even if you are a true cooking pro whose skills Jamie Oliver himself would envy).
Photo: Getty Images
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