Our civilization is sometimes depressing to think about because of all the wars, suppression and injustice. But one thing definitely compensates all these atrocious human tragedies – gastronomy. Food is our basic need and we try to make it taste better. We also explore different things to eat and invent different ways to make food so that we have yogurt, cheese, wine, etc. Thanks to our long history of civilization, in our leisure time, we even manage to develop a system of how to taste wine, cheese, oysters, etc.
It is probably as absurd as it is elegant when someone holds wineglass, smells and sips and says “it tastes like blackberry, plum, rose and a tint of spice,” or “it smells like cherry, apple, and earthy when you step into a cellar.”
Smell and taste are two basic senses that consist of pleasure derived from food. We like the smell of fried chicken, cappuccino, caramel, orange, etc. However, apparently, we do not only like the smell of food, we also enjoy the smell of non-edible things such as rose, amber, and air in the rain. I always find the naming of fragrance interesting. Think about how “Summer Hill” or “April Rain” can stimulate our brain and make us believe that these fragrances must smell nice. It is found that people categorize odors by their hedonic dimension before they think about the edibility of the odor. Thus, the smell of Turkey rose can probably generate same pleasure as that of Godiva chocolate. However, we do not eat rose and we literally can’t eat air in the rain.
In this case, the pleasure of smell can only be appreciated, but not possessed. Similar to Kant’s theory of disinterested interest in terms of aesthetic experience, we like certain smells in the same way as we appreciate a piece of art. The aesthetic experience is independent of the desirability of the artwork and our desire to it. We like it but we do not want it. However, wine succeeds to combine both liking and wanting. Drinking wine makes us own the smell that we like but we cannot possess such as the smell of cellar. It is triumph over the “helplessness” of liking without wanting.
Moreover, apart from smell and taste, the pleasure we gain from eating results from texture. The freshness of ice-cream, the softness of marshmallow, the creaminess of cheesecake all contributes to the satisfaction we have from these food. Texture, smell, and taste are three key elements that make the aesthetics of food. Wine is beautiful because the aroma is fascinating, the taste is so rich and the texture is various. Moreover, even though the appearance of food is not as important as its smell and taste, the charm of good-looking food is inseparable from our experience with it. The color of red wine is seductive with the reflection of ruby and the texture looks like red silk. It is found that people can learn to associate pleasant smell with other non-hedonic stimulus such as neutral faces. Thus, it is possible that the association between pleasant smell and other pleasant stimuli such as beautiful color. This conditioning can enhance the pleasure experience. In the case of wine, it associates with many things that are considered beautiful such as ruby, silk, etc.
Moreover, smell is the most fundamental sense that we have and we detect it rather intuitively. Not like other visual, auditory and somatosensory information, olfaction goes into the pleasure system more directly, bypassing the thalamus. Thus, we get pleasure from a smell very directly. Then, it is sent to different brain areas such as pyriform cortex. Pyriform cortex reflects our subjective feeling of the smell, and so, sends the pleasant smell to medial orbitofrontal cortex (OFC) and unpleasant one to posterolateral OFC.
Not only smell is encoded in OFC, vision, taste and texture are also processed in this area, so the combination of all the elements of wine probably makes the OFC experience a stronger pleasure. There is evidence that certain neurons process the taste-smell information, some the taste-texture information and so on. Thus, the convergence of all the elements is rather important for determining the pleasantness of a food. Thus, wine is appreciated because its complexity in provoking different sensations.
In conclusion, people appreciate food such as wine, oysters and cheese because of the possibility to consume smell that is not associated with edible objects, the complexity of its rich visual, somatosensory and olfactory sensations, and the convergence of all the elements. People develop different techniques to keep certain smells. We have a huge diversity of perfume, essential oils, scented candles, etc. The fragrance ranges from citrus, rose to cedar, leather, and ocean. However, in the world of food, we can keep these smells and actually consume them by drinking wine, eating cheese and oysters. Next time when you open a bottle of wine, think about all the earthy elements you own in your cup.
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