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The Art of the Sniffer- What Smells Do To Your Brain

Updated on May 21, 2015

Transported Back to Childhood from Just One Whiff

Scientists say that certain smells really make a connection with memories in our mind. This especially pertains to scents that have made long lasting impressions. Smells in fact, are one of the best ways to evoke the past.

But the findings show that there is something 'particularly special' about early memories of smells.

Smells may trigger such strong memories because our ancestors were more dependent on their noses to avoid poisonous plants, rotten food or enemies than modern people.


The point is, the sense of smell is a very important sense when triggering memories, and I took a little time to write down my favourite scents and I was hoping you might share some of yours with me.

Chocolate Chip Cookies

Reminds me of Holidays, Weekends, and My Mom

My mom is famous for her double chip, chocolate chip cookies. She bakes these for all of the special men in her life, like my two teen sons and her grandchildren. She used to bake them for my brother and I, and it was such a treat! We would help her bake the cookies and watch the whole process, and enjoy the double chipped goodness. My mother, it's safe to say, had a chocolate chip cookie recipe that is like no other. My friends would be crazy waiting for them. When those cookies are in the oven it's like Christmas Morning each time they come out- so I guess the Chocolate Chip Cookies' scent emits a very pleasant olfactory memory of family togetherness and holidays.

My Dad- Old Spice

Old Spice- Peanut Butter Sandwiches and Beer

My dad was the one who waited for my brother and I when we were done with school. When he got home from the factory he worked at, he always made himself a fresh peanut butter sandwich and drank two beers. I would sit on his lap and hug him and I distinctly remember the scent of old spice aftershave and deodorant, and the pb sandwiches mixed with a little beer to wash them down. That smell gave me so much comfort and to this day I love all three smells as they remind me of my dad.

Macintosh Apples

Macintosh Apples and the Crisp Scent of Fall

I grew up in Canada and near by there were dozens of apple orchards. Each fall we would go to little stands by Lake Erie and load up on Macintosh apples for the winter, and my dad used to store them outside in his screened in porch. We had bags and bags of them. Their pure flavour and crisp taste was what made me so happy. Now, Yankee Candle has a scent called 'MacIntosh' that is coveted by my whole family as it reminds us of simpler times when a trip to the orchard was a whole day's endeavor and worth months of delicious Macintosh Apples!

Campfire Songs and the Scent of Hickory

Burning Wood and Leaves

We were, as a family, big campers. We also had a fire pit in our back yard. In fact, my dad still has one and when I go home to visit in Canada he often builds me a fire which we sit around and roast marshmallows and drink wine. That smell of hickory on our clothes is so comforting to me, as are the long hours I spent warming myself and staring with fascination into the fire. To this day I love the smell of burning leaves or wood- or better yet- I love the smell of a real campfire.

Lake Erie Beach In My Back Yard

The Comforting Waves, the Beautiful Water, the Wet Sand

My parents are about 5 minutes away from the beach at Lake Erie. They are about 10 minutes away from Rondeau Provincial Park. I spent so much time at the lake when I was a kid. Whether we were camping, fishing, swimming, or just spending the day in the sand I remember the scent of the water and the sand mixing as mud, and the lingering sun screen in the air. I remember the sounds of the waves as I slept in the warm sand, and the way the soft sand melted between my toes. Every time I go to a beach I take in all of the smells (some are not great, but they are all a part of it anyway), and I fondly remember my childhood.

Lilac Trees and Their Wonderful, Beautiful Scent

My Mother's Favourite

As a kid, we had a lilac tree in our backyard. Of course, it bloomed in the spring and the flowers didn't last very long, but when they did bloom we were all in for a beautiful scent. Purple lilacs have a strong scent that give off pure beauty and it's a telltale sign that spring has sprung. My mother used to cut the lilac flowers off of the trees and put them in various vases around our house so that she could enjoy the beautiful scent inside. To this day, I enjoy walking in the spring to smell the lilac trees and remember our little tree out back that brought my family so much pleasure.

Cinnamon- Such a Winter Scent

Christmas Was Near

My mom used to make us sugar cinnamon toast and we'd gobble it up, so delicious mixed with melted butter on bread. Towards Christmas, my mom used to put cinnamon sticks in a pot with other things and boil them in water. This in turn, would make the whole house smell like pure winter- like the coming of Christmas, like a sweet and spicy hot toddy. I remember the feeling of relaxing and enjoying the scent knowing that Santa was on his way and we were going to have another one of our many joyous Christmases. I smell cinnamon now and think of wonderful times we had around Christmas, and I am so grateful that my parents made each Christmas so special for us.

In Conclusion

Scent memories can also (obviously) be bad as well, but I like to focus on the positive and remember that memories brought on by scent are often most powerful. I love being transported back to significant places or thoughts with wonderful scents which bring fantastic family memories. I hope you have several to think of as well! Thanks so much for reading!

How Many Smells Can You Smell?

Scent and Memory


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    • lyoness913 profile imageAUTHOR

      Summer LeBlanc 

      3 years ago from H-Town

      Hi Mel,

      Old songs really do it for me too! I am a 'memory lane' person, and I just hope to keep making more good memories. :)

      Thanks for the comment!


    • Mel Carriere profile image

      Mel Carriere 

      3 years ago from San Diego California

      For some reason smells are not particularly meaninful to me, but old songs will take me back and sometimes bring a tear to my eye. Thanks for sharing these wonderful memories.


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