Comfort food feeds our souls, eating a dish from our childhood can create a calm, happy glow. These kinds of foods take a wide range of forms (my partner loves Old El Paso Taco kits!!!), but what makes them memorable? It’s definitely not the nutritional content as many of my generation love eating Kraft dinner. KD is all about nostalgia as well as our body’s yen for salt.
Eating stimulates many different parts of the brain and involves all our senses. Our most sensitive receptors explore our food like the tongue, eyes, nose and sometimes even hands. Watch a baby eat and it will help you understand how awesome food is and how much focus we devote to it (I love to eat with my hands, pre-covid, whaaa!). If all those senses are lit up by a tasty dish when you are young, that’s going to stay with you. Especially from your nose receptors, smell and memory information centers in the brain are quick linked by anatomical positioning. Smells are handled by the olfactory bulb at the front of the brain. As soon as aromas hit the olfactory area, it’s a short distance to the limbic system where the sensations are processed in the amygdala and the hippocampus, the regions most related to emotion and memory.
Food rituals from our youth are another key to creating your comfort food hit list; making pasta with mom or toasting a pop tart with dad equally can instill happy memories when our brains are young and impressionable making their recall when we’re older an easy way to bring back a smile. Food rituals that are repeated form a family narrative are are more likely to become comfort foods, like a traditional family Christmas meal. In my family, we always have cranberry, orange bread at Xmas, so that cake is very nostalgic for me.
What is your comfort food? I’d love to hear your comments below…
Top 10 comfort foods:
- Rice crispy’s (that texture is key)
- Spaghetti & meatballs
- Kraft dinner or Mac n cheese
- Hot dogs
- Roasted marshmallows/S’mores (ps. I hate s’mores)
Notice the lack of vegetables on this list! I love broccoli with melted cheese, just sayin’.
Chef Tip: Always think about all senses when you cook; first the plating (you eat with your eyes first), then aroma, then taste and, the oft forgotten, texture of the dish. The more senses you can trigger positively, the more memorable your food will be.
On a naughty food nostalgia note; remember zoodles/spaghettios, lucky charms and hot pockets! I’ll be glad when those are lost to memory:)
Info on food and the brain, came from a really interesting article on How scent, emotion and memory are intertwined. (Harvard scientist, Venkatesh Murthy).