We go inside the mind of George F Manska for an analytical look at Sensory Science for Bartenders.
In this segment, George gives us a lesson on Experiential Memory and How to Improve Aroma and Taste Recognition.
In Part II we finalized a working definition of flavor, exploded the tongue map myth, and initiated discussion of experience and emotions as they relate to aroma and flavor. Recent scientific research (the last two decades) has uncovered links between emotions, sight, and proven beyond a doubt that textbook definitions of taste, smell, and mouthfeel are only rudimentary basics.
Although we take our sense of smell for granted, it is a far more important part of our lives than we realize. Human social and cultural evolution, division of labor, and domestication of animals as food sources (decreasing the dependency on daily hunting) are major factors which led to degradation in human olfactory.
ORNs (olfactory receptor neurons), are part of the brain’s limbic system which processes emotions and triggers memory recall. Smelling an aroma like that of Grandma’s fresh baked cinnamon-apple pie from years ago may bring on warm feelings and pleasant emotions. Experiential memory is triggered by recognition of familiar aromas, and during recalls we can and do re-live the emotions stored with that experience. If Grandma died that day, emotions connected to that smell may be heartbreaking. Smell, emotion, and the experiential memory of both are inextricably linked.
Imagine eating or drinking our favorite foods and beverages completely devoid of smell with the only sensations being taste (sweet, salty, sour, bitter, umami) and mouthfeel (oily, dry, metallic, cool, etc.): Food without saffron, rosemary, salt, pepper, or florals; wines without fruit, citrus, or spice; spirits without oak, grain, fruit, caramel, or honey.
A world of eating cardboard and drinking water with slightly different mouthfeels would be as good as it ever gets. No cinnamon-apple pie, no pine forest, no jasmine, and far less vivid memories of the past would truly be a desolate, banal, emotionless existence (ask a COVID survivor).
Age and health are common enemies: Taste buds can regenerate every two weeks. Olfactory epithelial cells regenerate as quickly as 24 hours (or weeks for those which must re-establish connections). Age brings on irreversible atrophy, and poor health destroys sense of smell with allergies, polyps, illness, disease, and sinusitis (inflammation). Proactive health maintenance, nutritious food, exercise, and medical awareness are primary to prolonging and protecting sense of smell.
Improve taste recognition:
Stay healthy and hydrated. Castor oil, garlic, and green tea help repair taste buds. Don’t buy food items with added refined sugars (bread, spaghetti sauce, peanut butter, etc.). In short, cut down refined sugar intake by reading labels and using natural sugars for sweeteners. Cook at home, from scratch, adding your own seasonings to your taste. Don’t abuse alcohol and develop cocktail recipes which are tasty but low in refined sugar. Eating breakfast reduces the craving for after dinner sweets.
Improve olfactory recognition:
Olfactory degradation can be changed by literally stopping to smell the roses (it’s never too late). Olfactory training can be self-taught and is the main professional treatment for olfactory disfunction. Periodically interrupt your usual task-oriented thoughts and focus directly on smells and their simultaneous emotions. Whether cooking or dining out, visiting a winery or distillery, drinking and discussing with friends, gardening, or hiking, for a few minutes of the day refocus to identify, associate, and relate smells with personal emotions, sniff and repeat smell names aloud, verbalize and visualize how smells make you feel. Confidently and deliberately build your smell-library of personal experiences.
What else can I do?
Be pro-active, ask the chef (or another bartender) for the recipe, try it at home. Learn the distiller or vintner’s processes, experiment when mixing cocktails. Keep the 90% aroma part of flavor foremost during every smell opportunity by building emotional associations while burning unmistakable identification into memory. Practice improves identification. Google “Improving Sense of Smell” and “Olfactory Training” for more simple ideas. Aroma training kits are available on-line for spirits, wine, and food. They work. Purchase and practice.
Taste with friends, especially fellow bartenders who you respect and admire, and show your same passion for sensory. Share impressions, verbalize, opinionate, discuss both sides of “like – don’t like” issues. Be rational, pragmatic, fair, and above all recognize which opinions are specifically yours and not necessarily others.
It’s all up to you:
Don’t voluntarily give up one of your most precious senses by doing nothing. A little focus each day can avoid cardboard and water sensations and preserve and enhance precious memories. Best of all, you will no longer depend on others’ descriptions, but will come to understand them personally. As far as your own personal preferences, only you can appreciate what you like, and you are the only judge that matters. Make sensory improvement your own personal adventure in self-development.
Embrace the memories and emotions associated with a particular aroma, they are your present perception, and can be changed at your will.
Take a long, hard look at your olfactory and taste experiences to make them important opportunities to learn and explore. Go the extra steps to collect more smell and taste experiences, focus and define them with words and emotions. Always be a student.
Learn the conversational art of pleasantly sharing those experiences, exchanging them with others (ask for their impressions), and get to know yourself and others through the sharing experience.
There is no reason to become the top-expert guru with the last word in beverages. Knowledge and appreciation build respect for one’s entire persona as a great bartender.
Next, swirling, how does it work, and is it necessary?
About George Manska
George is an entrepreneur, inventor, engine designer, founder, Chief R&D officer, Corporate Strategy Officer, CEO Arsilica, Inc. dedicated to sensory research in alcohol beverages. (2002-present). He is the inventor of the patented NEAT glass, several other patented alcohol beverage glasses for beer and wine, (yet to be released). Director ongoing research into aromatic compound behavior, and pinpointing onset of nose-blindness. George is a professional consultant for several major spirits competitions, has been published in the MDPI Beverage Journal Paper, is the founder or member of over seven different wine clubs for the past fifty years, is a collector of wines and spirits, has traveled the world, and is an educator and advisor of multiple spirits sensory seminars.