FoodPep Talk

Comfort foods – the science behind the emotions

The simple aroma of freshly prepared daal, evokes feelings of warmth and comfort.
The simple aroma of freshly prepared daal, evokes feelings of warmth and comfort.

We have often heard ourselves saying that all we want to do is have a simple plate of daal-chawal, just the way your mum would make it? Usually, after a long flight or a train journey, the only thing that lifts you up is that perfect bowl of thukpa, a khichdi or that special tea just the way it’s made at home? What do you think we call such a thing? It’s called comfort food but why do we associate so much importance around comfort food?

If you think it is just one of those things that we think of when we’re hungry, think again; there’s much more to it that you can image.

As Prachi S. Vaish, a psychologist puts it, “The human brain automatically attaches memory cues to everything we do. That’s how we grow and learn. In the same way if a pleasant and comforting memory is created while eating a particular food (a bowl of soup for the first time in the rainy season, or a close friend bringing chicken noodle soup to tend to you while you’re sick), it gets conditioned in our minds as a ‘comfort food’ and we want to go back to it when we’re stressed the next time to invoke the same pleasurable feelings.”

But wait, there’s more science attached to comfort food. Anything that gives us pleasurable feelings triggers a reward centre in our brain called the nucleus accumbens explains Prachi. It’s the same centre that’s responsible for getting us hooked on addictive substances. It’s a part of our primitive brain that works on dopamine and endorphins that make us feel good and that’s why certain foods that we call comfort foods create such positive feelings in our minds.

Making memories is the job of another primitive brain called Hippocampus. The stronger is an emotion attached to any event, the deeper is the memory created. Food is one of the primal needs of humans and good food always elicits great emotions which then get imprinted into strong memories, so the next time you’re craving for ‘ma ke haath ka daal-chawal’, you know it’s all a wonderful blend of science and emotions.

Nothing is as relaxing as freshly made homemade Thukpa
Nothing is as relaxing as freshly made homemade Thukpa

For celebrity chef and food author Chef (Mrs.) Reetu Uday Kugaji, “According to me comfort food is the one which relieves the person from negative psychological stress. This also helps the person in coping with our emotional stress. In India, comfort food varies between states and sometimes even cities. The belief in India is to eat comfort food as fresh as possible.”

If you ask her about her favourite comfort food, it’s got to be “Pakorewali Punjabi Kadhi” prepared by her mother. “Because”, she says, “It’s prepared with a secret ingredient called mother’s love. So pure and emotions attached to it, prepared with a positive mind.”

She further adds, “The reason being that “Ma ke haath ka khana” has magic and has qualities that are God gifted. Anyone would feel that even the best cuisines in the world simply cannot beat the cooking and preparation of food by their mother. Prepared with 100% of pure love for her family makes it even more special.”

It doesn’t matter how young or old you are and which part of the globe you are, whenever you dig into a bowl of your comfort food, say a little thank you to your mum or that special person who made you feel good, warm and better in minutes thousands of miles away.

The next time you sit down with your favourite comfort food, say a little thank you to that special person who made the dish out of sheer love for you that even though you’re sitting miles away, that very plate of food has the power to make you feel good in no time.

What’s your comfort food?

Share your fond food memories and recipes and we’ll publish it. Email us ( your recipes or a short write-up on your favourite food memory and attach a couple of nice photographs to compliment it. 


The Lifestyle Portal

Tanya is a graduate in Sociology from Sophia College, Mumbai, a post-graduate in Communications and Media from SNDT Women’s University in Mumbai and holds a Master's Degree in Journalis & Mass Communications from Chandigarh University. A former writing mentor and a seasoned lifestyle writer, Tanya writes columns on The Lifestyle Portal of life and living.

One thought on “Comfort foods – the science behind the emotions

  • My comfort food?? Mom’s sari ke aanchal ka corner!!! I can twist and twirl and squish it… but it has d most relaxing and soothing taste of tasteless ness.

    Yr article made me miss mommy!!


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