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May 28, 2009 04:28 AM

Does Memory effect Taste?

Have you ever thought about the effect of memory(ies) on how we perceive taste presently? It is well established that the olfactory sense has a powerful ability to trigger memories. Might it not follow that since taste and smell are related that perhaps there is the possibility of an inverse effect on taste? (Maybe there is real science on this, but, at this point, I am more interested in anecdotes.)

Recently, in a thread on the Beer Board, I noted a soft spot I have for icy cold cans of Coors Banquet beer (despite a more general preference for more flavorful/complex beers – Stoudt’s, Magic Hat, etc.). It reminded me of a time when (1) Coors was impossible to buy in New Jersey so it had to be “smuggled” in and (2) the end of a day in the surf. Upon reflection, though, I thought “Do I still like the flavor because it evokes those memories?” or “Is there a sensory memory that makes me enjoy that taste?” The latter intrigued me.

One example, familiar to many, is an aversion to the taste of a drink that was once consumed in too great a quantity. For the Mrs. it’s Jaegermeister. For many, it may be tequila, etc.

Finally, there is the White Rose cheeseburger (think over-sized White Castle with pickles on a hard roll). They were a childhood treat (a stop halfway between home and Grandma's where Dad would stop to either shut us up or fill us up). Today, I simply cannot be anywhere near Highland Park (NJ) and not detour to get one. However, if I step back to examine one, it’s kind of gross – very greasy, soggy, cheap cheese, bad pickles. Objectively pretty nasty, subjectively delicious! You see????

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  1. Most definately! I too have asoft spot for Coors Banquet, although its been years since I have had one. I lived in Pa, and my brother would bring me cases when visited and Pres. Ford had it flown to the White House. I used to drink it on hot summer days when I moved to New Mexico and the smell of tequila st9ill makes me queasy. I grew up on NJ pizza and when I return, I can't seem to find any that match up to my childhood memories. Same for chili dogs.
    White Rose are indeed tasty little cardiac arrests.
    Calovin covers this topic in his food Zen book.

    2 Replies
    1. Ah yes, one infamous evening in college that involved a severe overindulgence in White Russians washed down by Mateus rose left me incapable to this day of ever consuming another drop of either. Not that I'd want to, nowadays. I'm just grateful I didn't have that experience with something I'd actually miss!

      1. Well, taste for sure effects memory.. you might want to read "A la recherche de temps perdu" by Proust for a rather lengthy testimonial.

        1 Reply
        1. re: KevinB

          I agree. I was simply struck by the idea that the opposite effect could exist.