We all have our food memories, some good and some bad. The taste, smell, and texture of food can be extraordinarily evocative, bringing back memories not just of eating food itself but also of place and setting. Food is an effective trigger of deeper memories of feelings and emotions, internal states of the mind and body. (…)
But why should this be the case?
There are several reasons. First, evolution has seen to it that food in general may be a privileged target of memory in the brain. There is a part of the brain called the hippocampus (one in each hemisphere) that is critical for memory.
The hippocampus has strong connections with parts of the brain that are important for emotion and for smell. This may explain why emotional memories can be so vivid or why certain smells trigger a sense of recall in us even before we consciously remember an event.
Candy and food in general are of course not unique in their ability to promote a mnemonic cascade. However, our evolved psychology may make food one of the more likely things in the environment around which memories are formed and focused.
One of my childhood-memories-trigger food is something quite “trivial”, but I will tell you. Mirella was my friend’s mother and I spent quite a lot of time at her house. She would create a sort of fast-food ground-breaking dish: pasta with butter and concentrate tomato. It is kind of blasfemy for italian cuisine, I know. But we, as kids, loved it. And sometimes… when I want those memories to come back to me, I cook it again. You just cook pasta in salted water, then dress it with some butter (note:italian butter is sweet, not salted) and some concentrate tomato. It’s like a throwback in time… like being again near that jukebox playing this song… I close my eyes and I feel that summer night smell of 1981…