How the smell of food can enable time travel

Older people exposed to food flavours from their youth were able to “time travel” back to the past with an enhanced memory of the event.

The research entitled “It took me back 25 years in one bound”: self-generated flavour-based cues for self-defining memories in later life” published in Human Computer Interaction is by Professor Corina Sas of Lancaster University, Dr Tom Gayler, formerly of Lancaster University and Vaiva Kalnikaité of Dovetailed Ltd. Their work explored the feasibility of 3D printed flavour-based cues for the recall of memories in old age.

Working with 12 older adults, they collected 72 memories, half involving food and half not involving food, each recalled twice. This ranged from barbecued mackerel at a golden wedding to eating strawberries in hospital after giving birth.

For food memory, the researchers worked with the participants to create bespoke flavour-based cues for each one. The 3D printed flavour-based cues are small, gel-like, edible balls, modelling the original food, which are easier to swallow with more intense flavours, without requiring all the ingredients and preparation.

Professor Sas said: “Our outcomes indicated that personalized 3D printed flavour-based cues have rich sensorial and emotional qualities supporting strong recollective retrieval, especially when they distinctively match the food in the original experience and prompt emotionally positive self-defining memories.”

All the participants were able to provide rich sensory accounts when prompted by flavour- based cues, with most of the details not being present in the earlier free recall.

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