After a long, tiring day at school, Haya heads to her youth group session on this dull, chilly afternoon. She enters her group leader’s house deflated and beat only to be received by the warm, welcoming scent of delectable goods that immediately eliminates her fatigue and uplifts her mood.

“Oh my goodness! It smells like heaven in here!” proclaims the 16-year-old to her leader, who simply greets her with a welcoming smile and plate of fresh-baked brownies.

Haya Muhammad of Glendale Heights, Illinois, is a senior in high school and meets on a weekly basis with her youth group. “I have to admit that the yummy smelling snacks our leader serves us make us keep coming back for more,” she laughingly shares. “She is big on making us feel at home, and we seem to focus better and are more productive while being blanketed by the warmth and comforting aromas in her house.”

Smell is a very powerful sense. Often associated with memories, smell has a direct effect on one’s emotions or moods. In order for the sense to work efficiently for us, many intricacies must take place. Molecules that are light and can easily evaporate must travel to the nose and reach a small patch of special neurons, called olfactory receptors, at the top of the nasal passage. (There are approximately 40 million olfactory receptors in humans!) Odor molecules bind to hair-like projections attached to the neurons and signal cells in the olfactory bulb, triggering our perception of smell. The olfactory tract leads to areas of the brain that are part of the limbic system, which is involved with emotional behavior and memory.

Melida Skenderi of Morton Grove, Illinois, has many childhood memories of her mother baking goods and filling their home with delicious smells. “When you open the door and enter the house, the first sense to activate is your sense of smell,” says the mother of three. “There is nothing that welcomes you better than the aromatherapy of fresh baked foods.”

Skenderi has carried this tradition of baking into her own home. “I definitely enjoy baking much more than cooking,” she says. “I find it therapeutic and a great way to bring the family together, especially during the cold winter months.”

She advises to stock up on apples during the fall harvest and bake apple cake in the winter, which fills the house with warm, inviting fragrances. However, the staple food in this Bosnian family’s home is fresh baked bread, its scent taking over the house from top to bottom. “We are definitely bread people,” says Skenderi, who recently performed the sacred pilgrimage of Hajj and greatly missed this simple pleasure. “All I was craving after returning home was my mother’s warm, homemade bread.”

Another must-have for the Skenderi’s is hot, delicious soup to accompany all that bread. “After playing in the snow, nothing is more inviting to my kids than a hot bowl of fresh soup. It gives off a great aroma in the home, as well. It is also a great way for me to get them to eat their vegetables without any complaints.”

When Skenderi used to work in real estate, one of the marketing techniques she learned was to have fresh-baked cookies in the homes that had showings or open-houses to give them a more “homely feel.” In other words, igniting the sense of smell can even put consumers in a buying mood!

Skenderi believes it also helps to get kids out of bed. “On those dark, gloomy winter mornings, my kids willingly arise out of bed and run downstairs following the trail of their favorite breakfast aromas,” shares Skenderi. “Whether it is French toast, pancakes, or crepes, it gets the job done. They start off their day content and satiated, and we have managed to spend time together as a family first thing in the morning.”

Joan Gray, an artist from Pine City, Minnesota, also knows how to bring the family together during those freezing winter months. The mother of five and grandmother of seven grew up in the northern state of Minnesota, where temperatures can drop drastically. “When my children were younger, I would welcome the back into the home from playing in the snow with a fresh, homemade cup of hot cocoa,” says Gray. “It would melt the cold right off.”

Gray says that hot cocoa is the perfect winter drink with its cozy aroma and tasty flavor, and the specific recipe she uses has been passed down from her own mother and grandmother. “There is such a difference between this homemade hot chocolate and those instant mixes,” shares Gray. “It is well worth the 10 short minutes it takes to make it,” she advises.

From breads and cakes to soups and drinks, there are many great ways to bring comfort and warmth into your home this winter. Aromas from baked goods can help rid the winter blues. Many times these comforting smells trigger fond memories of family, togetherness, and happiness. This winter, make your house a home with a variety of culinary scents, new and old, and build new memories to last a lifetime.


Homemade Hot Cocoa Recipe

Apple Cake Recipe

Home-Baked Bread Recipe