Occasionally, a meal or song takes us to a special moment in the past, transporting us to a distant place or generating different sensations. This happens very often when we drink a cup of tea.
Inadvertently, a sip of our favorite beverage takes us to that little street in Paris, laughter with our friends, or the lovely summer afternoons we used to spend with our grandmother; and then, a delicate but authentic smile draws up on our face… this mainly owes to the evocative power of the sense of smell. This sense lets us appreciate food and beverage odors not only directly (direct smell of the product), but also indirectly (via the circulation of the scent through the retronasal route). Every time we put food into the mouth, tiny volatile particles travel from the mouth cavity to the nose, enabling the identification of smells.
The relationship between smell and emotions has been studied widely. This effect derives from interrelations among different areas of the brain that process the information of those sensations. The anatomical basis is the limbic system that regulates neural circuits controlling motivations and emotional behavior. It is related to the hypothalamus, which also controls corporal temperature, the desire to eat, drink, body corporal weight, i.e., all basic functions of the brain. Upon receiving an olfactory sensation, some areas processing memory, language and emotional response start operating in the brain.1 Therefore, when they receive the stimulus of a scent, i.e., when molecules capable of stimulating the limbic system are received, and they are triggered in our brain through the afferent pathway (entrance to the brain), they are processed in the limbic system and through the efferent pathway (exit from the brain) and they translate into actions, sensations and evocations of moments lived.2 Physiologically, this translates into palpitations, sweat, nervousness or an endless number of different sensations in the body, which may be related to pleasure or discomfort, depending on the memory.3 4
Therefore, a cup of tea may trigger emotions at any time of the day. Using this evocative power we can be happier, and improve our lifestyle. A cup of tea may become a passage to the most dreamed-about journey.
1. A. Guyton, Tratado de fisiología médica, Interamericana Mc Graw-Hill, 8va ed.
2. J. Klinger and J. Herrera, “La psiconeuroinmunología en el proceso salud enfermedad”, Colom Med, 36(2):120-126, 2005.
3. Y. Masaoka; H. Sugiyama; et al., “Slow Breathing and Emotions Associated with Odor-Induced Autobiographical Memories”, Chem. Senses, 37:379-388, 2012.
4. M. Bensafi; S. Pouliot; et al., “Odorant-specific patterns of sniffing during imagery distinguish ‘bad’ and ‘good’ olfactory imagers”, Chem Senses, 30:521-529, 2005.