The New York Times: The Science of Comfort Food

Turkey is not my thing, but one dish I cannot live without on Thanksgiving is my mom’s Snowy Mashed Potatoes. The recipe is more sour cream and cream cheese than potato, which may be why it’s so delectable. I start looking forward to these potatoes in early November, and I always make enough for the leftovers to last at least a week, which means the dish is my annual time-release capsule of pure joy. I’m pretty sure I’ve had them at every Thanksgiving since I was a toddler, and bites often transport me back to different years and different dining rooms.

How and why is it that certain foods give us so much pleasure? And what can be said about the kinds of foods we consider most comforting? I asked a nutritional scientist, a psychologist who studies how our brains process sensory information and a nutritional psychiatrist to learn more. Taste and nutritional content affect how foods make us feel, I learned, but much of the happiness we derive from our favorite foods stems from the memories they spark for us and the people we’re with while we enjoy them.

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