June 10, 2011 (link to this)
Have you ever noticed that it’s difficult to remember what particular foods taste like? Compared to the relative ease with which most of us can “hear” a song in our head, it’s difficult relive a gustatory experience. There are several potential reasons for this.
One possibility is that we don’t attend to the flavor of what we eat. Sensation is a passive process, that is, your taste-buds automatically do their thing when you present them with food. But unless you attend to the flavors, you haven’t much chance of being able to recall them later.
Another explanation is that we don’t effectively encode gustatory memories. To address this issue, memory champ Ed Cooke recommends doing three things: 1) make the memory vivid, 2) make each flavor distinct, 3) create a narrative to tie the meal together. We would also be willing to wager that expertise plays a role: a professional chef likely has a greater ability to recall tastes than does the average person.
The truth is that human memory is more of a sketch than a photograph. We remember the gist and fill in the details. When you really study it, the tune you in your head pales in comparison to the real thing. So perhaps it’s not surprising that we tend to recall the flavor of what we eat in the same way.