I was recently asked whether I’d be more likely to return to a restaurant where I’d had outstanding food but poor service; or a restaurant where I had mediocre food but outstanding ambience and service. It’s a tough one – obviously I’d prefer to have it all in one package, but failing that, I think I would rather have average food but in a great ambience and served by lovely people. The fact is that although the primary sense engaged in eating is taste, we underestimate the impact of all our other senses on the overall experience of the meal. To limit yourself to taste is to discount the effect the remaining senses: the smell of popcorn popping on the stove; the sound that pork crackling makes as it shatters between your teeth; the colour of a perfectly ripe tomato; or the fuzzy feeling of a peach beneath your fingers. But even acknowledging the role of all the physical senses in eating still underestimates the role of emotion and memory in one’s subjective experience of a meal.
Last weekend I had the pleasure of meeting Instagram sensation chef Jacques la Merde who plates everyday food like haute cuisine – think smears of Miracle Whip, Dorito “soil”, and scatterings of edible flowers. It was quite an experience and we talked a lot about what he does, and why it has resonated so much with the great Instagram-loving public. One of the reasons he believes that people are so captivated by the plates is that we eat with our eyes first, and that the effect of the visuals on the plate on people’s expectations (and ultimately their subjective experience of the food’s taste) creates an interesting disconnect between their cognitive brain (“this is junk food! Bad!”) and their affective brain (“oooh cool this reminds me of my 13th birthday party and I love it!”).
But it is not only sight that can play with our perceptions and emotions – in fact smell has been proven to be the sense that triggers the strongest emotions and memories. There’s quite a lot of research into why this might be the case and it makes for fascinating reading. The olfactory bulb (the part of the brain that decodes and interprets smell) is located adjacent to the amygdala and hippocampus (brain regions that handle memory and emotion) and it is suggested that this physical proximity may account for the intensity of the memories and emotions that smells evoke. We have more types of smell receptors that any other type (over 1,000 as opposed to only 4 types in our eyes) which means that we can discern between a huge number of different types of smells, even those we may not have the words to describe. Smell is also unique among the senses because unlike other sensory input, such as hearing and vision which start at the sense organs and move to a relay station called the thalamus before passing on to the rest of the brain, smell information bypasses the thalamus and travels from the nose directly to the the olfactory bulb for processing. It is thought that this direct route into the brain accounts for the intense, almost visceral emotions and memories that smells can trigger, and the fact that smell can trigger deep-rooted memories long into old age, after many other memories have faded.
I am no exception to this rule. When I was a teenager, we spent every Easter holiday in Plettenberg Bay in South Africa, in a rented house right on the dunes of Robberg Beach. Every morning at low tide I’d dash off to the beach and spend a couple of hours looking for rare pansyshells (sand dollars) in the shallow surf and then return to the house, either empty-handed or triumphant. The smell that invariably greeted me when I opened the door was that of hot cross buns toasting gently in the oven and to this day I cannot smell a hot cross bun without being flooded with memories of how it felt to be sixteen, with beach-tousled hair and a sunburnt nose, and stepping into a room filled with family,friends and love. The smell of roasting coffee reminds invariably of driving up Albany Road in my hometown, where Masterton’s coffee roasters used to roast their beans. One summer I had a brief, sweet, but ultimately ill-fated fling with a boy who lived very close to Mastertons and I cannot smell roasting coffee without recalling the memories of that summer, as bittersweet as the coffee itself. And the smell of hot sugar turning slowly to caramel reminds me of a holiday treat when I was at school and my mom would let my brother, my best friend and me loose in the kitchen with a toffee apple-making kit. Three kids unsupervised in the kitchen with superheated boiling sugar laden with artificial red colouring (probably Sudan 1 red!) – clearly a more laissez faire age of parenting! But we survived and to this day the smell of caramelising sugar brings back memories of those long Christmas holidays and all the mischief we got up to.
So naturally when Appletiser asked me to come up with a Christmas cocktail recipe, toffee apples were the first thing I thought of. Appletiser is a premium sparkling fruit juice drink created by blending fruit juice with carbonated water and I grew up with it because it was developed in my native South Africa! French-Italian immigrant Edmond Lombardi created Appletiser in 1966 in Elgin Valley of the Western Cape and South Africans did not take long to fall in love with it. Over the subsequent years, red and green Grapetiser were also added to the range and also Peartiser to celebrate the company’s 40th anniversary in 2006. Although initially launched in the UK as Appletise, in 2001 all the branding was standardised internationally and it is now sold everywhere as Appletiser. More recently they also launched a limited edition sparkling pomegranate juice. In this rather grown-up dessert cocktail, classic Appletiser is teamed with toffee vodka to create the flavours of a toffee apple in a glass – and to gild the lily I rimmed the glasses with some home-made salted caramel sauce that I had left over from earlier. Who needs heavy Christmas pudding when you can have a toffee apple dessert cocktail instead?
If you like this Appletiser sparkling apple juice cocktail then take a look at:
- Gin & Appletiser Christmas Cocktail from Fuss Free Flavours
- Prosecco Cocktail with Appletiser and Brandy from Maison Cupcake
- Green Apple Margarita from Tinned Tomatoes
- 100ml toffee vodka
- 200 ml sparkling grape juice (Appletiser original, chilled)
- salted caramel sauce (optional)
- If using, heat the salted caramel sauce to a thick liquid consistency in a wide, shallow container. Make sure the glasses are perfectly dry, otherwise the sauce will not stick. Dip the rim each glass lightly in the caramel sauce.
- Carefully pour 50ml of toffee vodka into each small wine glasses (or martini glasses) and top each glass up with at least 100ml Appletiser. Serve immediately.
WANT TO WIN ONE OF FIVE COCKTAIL KITS?
Why not try to create a new Appletiser cocktail yourself this festive season? For a chance to win a cocktail kit, head on over to the Appletiser Facebook page for the full terms & conditions!
DISCLOSURE: This post was commissioned by Appletiser and I was compensated for my time. I was not expected to write a positive review – all views are my own and I retain full editorial control.
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