Telling It Like It Was

I promised a couple of days ago to offer more on the incredible presentation on aroma given by Dr. Rachel Herz as part of Francesco Lafranconi’s sensory seminar at Tales of the Cocktail, entitled “Tell It Like It Is.” So here are just a few of the interesting points made by Dr. Herz, one of the leading lights in the study of how we perceive aroma:

  • To start with, Dr. Herz spoke a bit about the sense of taste, offering up first the fallacy of the sweet at the front of the tongue, bitter at the back and sour and salty on the sides school of taste bud perception, and then adding the interesting tidbit that humans even have taste buds in our throats.
  • Dr. Herz also surprised me by noting that the sense of taste does not degrade with age, but that the sense of smell does.
  • Ever notice how when you’re stuffed up things don’t taste as good as they usually do? That’s because aroma is directly connected to taste even after the food or drink we’re tasting is in the mouth! This is called retronasal olfaction.
  • The sense of smell is the only one of our senses to have a direct link to the part of the brain responsible for emotion and memory. This is why so many aromas can trigger strong evocations of the past.
  • Unlike taste, odour is not something that is “hardwired” from birth, meaning that we learn what smells are good and bad through associative learning and emotion.
  • It is possible to manipulate the way people perceive aromas by forcing associations on them. This gets a bit complicated, but basically means that by exposing two groups of people to the same smell, where one group is experiencing unpleasantness and the other a positive or neutral emotion, you can make the former group automatically dislike that smell, even when they are exposed to it weeks later, while the latter group will form positive associations with the same aroma.

That’s it for now. I have on order Dr. Herz’s book, Scent of Desire, and if the above was of interest to you, I strongly suggest that you do the same. If nothing else, it should give you some insight as to why you like some beers but may have a problem with other.



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