Science Has Decoded Comfort Food

Photo: Alliance Images (Shutterstock)

Photo: Alliance Images (Shutterstock)

When you think of your favorite food, what do you picture? For me, it’s nachos. Yet even as I’m thinking about the delicious pile of toppings that can really make the platter pop, I’m also picturing cozying up with a big old plate of the things in front of my favorite movie, sharing them with friends. When I crave nachos, I’m not only craving the taste but also the warm and fuzzy emotions that have surrounded my past nacho-eating experiences. And some of the nachos have been objectively bad, with burnt cheese or too many jalapenos, but even so, the dish maintains its association with positive memories. The New York Times posits that this mental connection defines our favorite comfort foods, more so than the flavor does.

What makes a dish “comfort food”

There is some direct science behind the notion of “comfort food”: eating anything at all triggers a release of opioid-based chemicals in the brain, and carbohydrates in particular increase serotonin levels. If you identify as someone with a sweet tooth, that simply means that you have stronger brain-reward responses to sugary foods.

Read more

But it’s our association with memories that makes certain foods more comforting than others. Comfort foods are different in different cultures, The New York Times explains, because that association is with foods we were given by people who cared for us early in life. This is why foods typically associated with healing during sickness, like soup, are often seen

Read More

At 35, I found out I had gout. Imagine having to give up everything you like to eat and drink | Daniel Levelle

I wake up to the searing pain in my right foot, the worst pain I’ve ever felt. Worse than the time I broke my back after plummeting 16ft from a cricket practice net, worse than when a rusty nail, jutting out from a rickety armchair, bored into my soft infant arm and worse than any grief from my teeth over the years. I switch on the light, gently remove the covers and discover an angry red lump, the size and shape of a golf ball, pulsing on the big toe of my right foot. I have no idea how this happened. It’s like I’ve been sucked into a cartoon overnight, and Daffy Duck has whacked me with an Acme hammer.

In my non-expert opinion, the toe looks broken. I think I should go to a hospital, but I reason that the NHS is too busy and what can they do about a broken toe except say “you have a broken toe” and send me on my way with crutches and painkillers. Also, I’m too lazy. In fact, that’s the real reason I don’t go; the NHS bit was to make me look good in your eyes. Soz.

Anyway, after much lazy and desperate calls to the hotel I’m staying at, a kindly receptionist collects some crutches from an Argos next door and delivers them to my room. Somehow, I manage to collect my effects and hobble with my new sticks to Euston station.

When I return home, my mum torpedoes

Read More

Restaurants and robots: Don’t be alarmed

So much of the recent news about robots in restaurants has focused on the kitchen, where experts seek to engineer the perfect automated pizza maker or a robotic fry station attendant. While the jury’s still out on whether these devices could ever demonstrate the dexterity humans have for making food taste good, they seem more approachable for many restaurant operators than service robots. Even so, the launch of these tools is often marked with headlines like “Attack of the pizza making robots” and “The robots are here,” as if we’re facing an alien invasion!

If you’ve ever been served by a robot in the front of a restaurant, it can be rather surprising at first. For customers and staff alike, the presence of these automated workers can set off alarm bells. Customers might worry the lack of human interaction will ruin their experience or result in unnecessary mistakes. For employees, robots might incite fears of being replaced.

The ultimate helping hand, robots are uniquely positioned to support restaurants through the current wave of labor shortages and inflated food costs — that is, if they’re introduced and used correctly.

Relieve, not replace

To ensure robots become an ally to service staff, it’s important to set expectations about what these automated co-workers can and can’t do. They are best utilized to perform physical, repetitive, and manually straining tasks, thus

Read More