Nothing is more memorable than a smell. One scent can be unexpected, momentary and fleeting, yet conjure up a childhood summer beside a lake in the mountains.
Our sense of smell is as essential to us as seeing and hearing, just as powerful in evoking memories, and has a role in healing (See Gray Matter article below). A famous study showed that we cannot distinguish between a strawberry and an onion if those foods were stripped of their natural smells. We cannot tell onion from garlic or basil from oregano if it were not for the characteristic odor we associate with them. Our perception of taste owes much to our olfactories.
I rely a lot on my sense of smell when I cook. Meat smells different when it’s done as does sugar when it’s caramelized. I can distinguish a Meyer lemon from a Eureka through their different fragrance. Most of us can tell the smell of rotting vegetables. I can detect that something is burning from the odors which rise out of the pan or the oven.
We become aware of potential danger when we smell certain odors. And, while we turn away in disgust at certain smells, we inhale deeply of or even salivate at others.I grew up with a grandmother who never used colognes or perfumes, but who always tucked the fresh flowers of a tropical species of jasmine within the locks of her hair. I’ve never seen that species here. They only grow in the tropics, but I will always remember how they smell. They have a sweeter but subtler scent, more pleasant to me than the jasmine I’ve come across here.
My grandmother also loved and grew roses and always picked several of them to put in vases. But she only chose the fragrant ones. Because of her, I also grew fragrant roses and, in one of the several places I’ve lived in I had about 100 of them. Yes, they were a tribute to her.
I will always associate roses and jasmine with my grandmother, and their scents mixed with her characteristic smell bring back my most vivid memories of her.