What are Comfort Foods?

Michael Pollick
Michael Pollick

There's a compelling reason for the pint of premium ice cream in the freezer, the supply of candy bars in the office desk drawer, or the collection of cereal boxes in the pantry. These are all examples of comfort food, those concoctions which provide a sense of nostalgia or self-satisfaction for the consumer. This type of food is not designed to be especially healthy, but it supplies a welcomed respite from the stresses of the outside world.

A classic candy, like horehound lozenges, can be a comfort food for some people.
A classic candy, like horehound lozenges, can be a comfort food for some people.

Although any food with personal meaning for the consumer could be considered comfort food, many people associate the term with Southern cooking. Traditional Southern recipes often call for significant amounts of sugars, carbohydrates and fats, often all at once. Deep-frying is also a cooking method preferred by Southern cooks. Fried chicken, macaroni and cheese, and biscuits all qualify as comforting for transplanted Southerners or those with relatives in the South.

Candy bars might offer a sense of nostalgia to some people.
Candy bars might offer a sense of nostalgia to some people.

Comfort foods, especially those high in carbohydrates or fats, is often more satisfying than other offerings. An ideal comfort food should "stick to the ribs", meaning it supplies a sense of fullness and satisfaction long after it has been consumed. Many people choose a personal comfort food for that very reason. A quart of premium ice cream or an extra large slab of ribs can be very emotionally satisfying.

Carbohydrates can be satisfying as a comfort food.
Carbohydrates can be satisfying as a comfort food.

A comfort food may also trigger positive memories of childhood meals or other occasions. Many people seek out ethnic or regional foods as a coping mechanism in an unfamiliar environment. As long as a person can still obtain a favorite food, the rest of the challenges may seem more surmountable. A comfort food such as a childhood cereal or novelty candy may not have the same appeal for others, but many people find great comfort in reconnecting with foods from their earlier years.

Pie is a comfort food for many people.
Pie is a comfort food for many people.
A peanut butter sandwich may be considered a comfort food for some.
A peanut butter sandwich may be considered a comfort food for some.
Fried foods, like chicken wings, are often a comfort food.
Fried foods, like chicken wings, are often a comfort food.
Michael Pollick
Michael Pollick

A regular wiseGEEK contributor, Michael enjoys doing research in order to satisfy his wide-ranging curiosity about a variety of arcane topics. Before becoming a professional writer, Michael worked as an English tutor, poet, voice-over artist, and DJ.

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Discussion Comments

anon57930

This is the first I ever knew that biscuits, fried chicken, and macaroni and cheese were considered "southern foods". Aren't they pretty ubiquitous throughout the US? I have no ancestral roots in the south at all and macaroni and cheese is one of the ultimate comfort foods for me (second only to pizza)!

Hope2WinBig

I enjoyed this article, but I thought one sentence was very misleading. You write, "Some use the evocative phrase 'soul food' to describe the effects of comfort food." This implies that "soul food" is just a phrase that means the same thing as "comfort food," but that's incorrect.

According to a couple of online articles I found, "[T]he phrase ‘soul food’ was coined in the 1960s during the Black Power and Black Pride movements to differentiate African American cuisine from the broad category of Southern food." "Soul food" is actually a specific, ethnic category of Southern food that incorporates the history of African-American slaves. It doesn't just mean "comfort food."

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