Comfort food was added to the dictionary in 1977, as “food that comforts or affords solace; hence any food (freq. with high sugar or carbohydrate content) that is associated with childhood or home cooking.” Whether or not your comfort food is mashed potatoes, lasagna, or a big slice of chocolate cake, the term usually refers to a change in our mental state, by providing warmth and a sense of “fullness.”
In addition to that comfort and warmth, studies show that comfort food is linked to something social, as well, meaning that there is an emotional bond or attachment to the food. A study published in the journal Appetite found that the power of comfort food is based on the associations that it calls to mind. During times of stress or discomfort, people who have strong family relationships often reach for something that reminds them of those strong relationships. Often, those reminders come in edible form. This could explain why you want mashed potatoes or pizza in times of stress, which could help you recall memories of a family Thanksgiving or childhood pizza party. Another study found that chicken soup was considered a comfort food by people who had strong emotional relationships. The stronger the relationship, the more satisfying the soup was to the subjects.
Although comfort foods tend to be delicious and satisfying, the reasoning behind why certain foods make us feel at ease is because of the associations we make with them.
The accompanying slideshow is provided by special contributor Will Budiaman.