Sixth Scents

20 December 2017

You’ll never forget someone that was close to your heart, but has a certain smell ever unexpectedly taken you back in time?

From boiled cabbage to ropy aftershave, our sense of smell can trigger strongly emotional memories and a feeling of going back to the past.

For Gary Moyle, the smell of freshly-baked pasties bring memories flooding back of his nan, Mary, making the family’s favourite meal.

“The smell of all the ingredients never fails to take me back to my Nan's kitchen all those years ago,” he says.

Gary formed a very close bond with his grandparents as a child, when he went to live with them in Cornwall.

A photo of Gary's nan MaryMary was a wonderful nan

“Nan was at the centre of family life when I was growing up and her kitchen was at the heart of everything,” he says.

“I can still clearly see how she would lay out all the ingredients on the table, ready to make her pasties.
They were the best in the world.”

##Surprising memory-joggers

Whether it’s something freshly-baked, or the flashbacks that crayons may give you, our sense of smell can unlock memories lying in deep-storage in our brains.

Scientists believe sights, sounds and smells act as ‘retrieval cues’ bringing back moments we haven’t thought about for years. In fact, when our memories are jogged in this way, we can recall almost twice as many moments, compared to simply casting our minds back.

Most memories linked to smell were stored in our brains when we were aged 10 or younger

Scent is an especially strong recall trigger, because the sense is processed in a part of the brain that’s very close to where our memories and emotions are processed and stored.

A certain perfume or a sea breeze can prompt our brains to recall things, before we’re even properly aware of the smell.

Cornish pastiesGary says Mary's pasties were better than these

Emotions can also play a part in bringing back memories, too. Experiences you had long ago can come back to mind, when you’re feeling the same way, later on in life.

Experts say memories triggered by nostalgic aromas take most of us back to childhood days. In fact, most memories linked to smell were stored in our brains when we were aged 10 or younger.

Gary's nan Mary on a day outMary on a day out in Cornwall

This kind of memory is also one of the most long-lasting. It can make us briefly feel like we’re back in the moment of a time or place – whether that’s nan’s kitchen or your first day at school. Studies suggest that tailoring your environment can even help us recapture those memories.

##Homemade is best

For Gary, baking pasties the way his nan did, never fails to bring back happy memories of her.

“When I was older, she taught me her traditional (top secret!) recipe and now, I often make them myself, or with my mum,” he says.

A notice reading "top secret recipe" Yum's the word: Mary's secret's safe with Gary

“Thinking back to watching my Nan make a fresh batch of her homemade pasties is one of my favourite childhood memories.

“Even before they went in the oven, the smell of all the ingredients would fill us with anticipation of the incredibly tasty pasties that we would be tucking into later in the day.

“Although I took it for granted at the time, they were very special family times where the family would all come together around a wonderful traditional Cornish meal.

“Those are very special memories which always make my Nan feel close.”

##Scent back in time

crayons

A survey of 2,000 people by Disneyland Paris included the following things among the top scents that transport us back to childhood. Which of these brings back happy memories of your own?

  • Crayons
  • The sea
  • Baby powder
  • Candyfloss
  • Hairspray
  • Suntan lotion
  • Coal tar soap
  • Garden sheds
  • Bonfires
  • Petrol engines
  • Plasticine
  • New shoes
  • Bubble gum
  • Fresh cut grass