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We all know what comfort foods are: They are the simple, traditional foods that remind us of childhood. Perhaps they are what our parents prepared when we were ill, or else did especially well in some competition or other. Comfort food is all about providing an emotional boost rather than necessarily fuelling our bodies. There is an element of sentiment and nostalgia there too – just remember the joy of running your finger round the cookie bowl as a kid?1

Bakery products come in top amongst many lists of people’s favourite comfort foods: Cakes and cookies are right up there – along with ice cream, and chocolate, of course.2 And while there is a tendency to think of comfort foods as calorie/carbohydrate dense, this is by no means always the case. According to the research, females tend to reach for comfort food when they are feeling down or stressed. They tend to pick less healthy options (sweets, ice cream, and other snacks), and so often feel guilty as a result. Men, by contrast, typically comfort eat when they are celebrating and in a good mood. They often pick hearty fayre – think burgers, steak or pasta. My advice to all you professional bakers out there wanting to capitalise on the growing market for comfort foods would be to think carefully about the name you give your sweet bakery treats. Play on the nostalgia angle, with descriptions like “grandma’s”, “traditional”, “simple”, and “homely.” All are terms that play well in the comfort food arena. And believe me when I say that getting the name of your food products right is more important than most people realise.3

As a society, we gravitate toward comfort food when times are tough/uncertain, when the world seems like a scary/unpredictable place – like now, for instance. Wily restaurateurs add more comfort foods to their menus at such times;4 so, next time something terrible happens in the world, don’t be surprised if you see a surge in sales of cakes and cookies.

Surprisingly, given what we thought we knew, research funded by NASA, and published in 2014 in the journal Health Psychology, found that comfort foods do not actually have any special power when it comes to improving our mood. Rather, a growing body of psychology findings suggest they are especially good at alleviating loneliness, especially amongst those with secure attachment to others.One of the most interesting things about comfort foods is the importance of smell and warmth in the hands, both attributes of freshly-baked goods.6 According to the social psychologists, when we hold something warm in our hands, those around us seem a little warmer too – just what we need when we are feeling lonely. So, wherever possible, why not encourage your customers to savour the aroma, and to hold any freshly-baked items in their hands, to maximise the multisensory benefits to our psyches that comfort food can most definitely provide.

References below

1

Locher, J. L., Yoels, W. C., Maurer, D., & Van Ells, J. (2005). Comfort foods: An exploratory journey into the social and emotional significance of food. Food and Foodways, 13, 273-297.

2

Wansink, B., & Sangerman, C. (2000). Engineering comfort foods. American Demographics, July, 66-67.

3

See Spence, C., & Piqueras-Fiszman, B. (2014). The perfect meal: The multisensory science of food and dining. Oxford, UK: Wiley-Blackwell, on the art and science of naming.

4

Stein, K. (2008). Contemporary comfort foods: Bringing back old favorites. Journal of the American Dietetic Association, 108, 412-414.

5

Hoffman, J. (2014). The myth of comfort food. The New York Times, December 15th. http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2014/12/15/the-myth-of-comfort-food/?_r=1.

6

Brown, N. (2016). The science of why we love comfort food: A sensory experience tied to memory. December 6th. https://www.fix.com/blog/why-is-comfort-food-so-tasty/.

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