Your Tastebuds Remember: How Taste is Connected to Memory.


You know how you can smell something familiar and literally be transported to another place and another time? No, I don’t mean teleportation, I mean memories. Apparently, it may the same with the sense of taste as well. The first time I tasted a popular lemonade drink, I spat it out because it tasted like this horrible herbal medicine my parents used to feed me and my siblings when we were younger. It wasn’t even funny cause it used to make me throw up back in the day. I still can’t drink that lemonade because it always reminds me. It works in the other direction too and we all have a few things which we love eating because it tastes of a favourite childhood memory. Don’t believe me? Well, here’s what experts have to say about this. 

  • You can’t taste well if you can’t smell. It’s true. The sense of smell and that of taste are closely linked, due to their ability to respond to chemicals in food and drink and also their proximity to each other. The combination of these two senses working together is what gives you a sense of flavour. The headquarters of this is in the brain and it's called the gustatory cortex. It makes the decision of if your body would reject or accept whatever it is you’re tasting. It's why when you smell a strong scent, you already have a pretty good idea of what it would taste like. So when people look at you weirdly when you say something tastes like soap, you now have an explanation for knowing what soap tastes like- and it’s not that you've actually taken a bite out of a bar of Lux.

  • The fact that the sense of smell and that of taste are so closely connected is what makes it possible, or easy for a memory to be tied to a taste- or smell. While tastebuds can pick up five basic tastes- sweet, salty, bitter, sour, and umami, we all know tasting food and drink is way more fun than these five and that’s where the olfactory receptors come in. We have quite a lot of these: about 12 million located in the nose and nasal cavity and they are responsible for sending electric signals to the olfactory bulb located in the brain. This bulb lives quite close to the hippocampus which is one of the brain’s most important structures for memory. See? Now it makes sense why you remember your grandma’s house when you make egusi using her recipe. The smell receptors are also the reason you can tell the difference between her egusi and the one bought from The Place.

  • Finally, there’s something called taste aversion. This happens when you eat something and get sick after eating a particular type of food. The next time you come in contact with that particular item, its flavour can cause disgust or nausea prompting you to avoid it. This is the brain’s way of reducing the risk of you repeating that mistake again. Thanks to this survival method employed by the brain, it has also become a supplementary way of enjoying our food. We can recall positive memories associated with meals and repeat those for our enjoyment - and not just avoid the negatives ones.

Fun, right? Learning new things about how our brains and bodies work is always fun. The brain has always been the most fascinating part of the body to me and I might have considered neuroscience if I wasn’t so averse to chemistry and science class in general.