The Comfort of Food: A Deep Dive into What Makes Certain Foods “Comforting”

What makes something a comfort food? The answer seems fairly obvious – it’s food that provides comfort. But what exactly does that mean? Based on interviews with 500 consumers across the UK, Creating Possibilities has uncovered some fascinating insights into the deeper psychological impact of comfort foods.

Types of Comfort Food

One key finding is that comfort foods are highly personal. When asked about their favourite comfort foods, responses spanned 11 broad categories from fast food to ethnic specialities. Demographically, younger consumers showed more varied preferences, while older groups favoured traditional, home-cooked meals. There were also some gender differences, with females leaning slightly more towards sweet, emotionally comforting options.

1. Fast Food and Takeaways

These convenient, indulgent foods like burgers, pizza, and fried chicken provide satisfying flavours and textures that evoke fond memories of carefree evenings or celebrations.

2. Sweet Treats and Desserts

Sugary foods such as cakes, cookies, and ice cream appeal to our cravings for sweetness while bringing back childhood nostalgia. Their soft, smooth textures are associated with being nurtured.

3. Beverages

Favourite drinks like tea, coffee, or hot chocolate are linked to daily rituals and warmth. Their aromas and flavours create positive sensory cues.

4. Traditional Home-Cooked Meals

Hearty dishes like roasts, stews, and pies are reminiscent of family gatherings and being cared for. Their rich, robust flavours are intrinsically comforting.

5. Breakfast Foods

Morning favourites such as cereal, porridge, and eggs are tied to feelings of optimism and routine. Their familiar start-the-day tastes provide reassurance.

6. Snacks and Light Bites

Portable, pick-me-up foods like fruit, sandwiches, and crackers bridge mealtimes. They’re associated with small indulgences and breaks in the day.

7. Baked Goods and Pastries

The scent of freshly baked breads, muffins, and biscuits evokes ideas of warmth, homeyness, and simple pleasure. Their doughy textures are soothing.

8. Ethnic and Regional Specialties

Dishes connected to one’s cultural background or origin, like curry and paella, provide a sense of connection and identity. They represent community and family traditions.

9. Protein-Rich Foods

Hearty sources of protein like sausages, ribs, and steak are filling and satisfying. Their rich flavours and hearty textures connote abundance and indulgence.

10. Dairy Products

Creamy dairy items like cheese, milk, and custard offer soft, smooth mouthfeels and associations with childhood comforts. Their nostalgia elicits positive emotions.

11. Carb-Rich Dishes

Pasta, rice, porridge, and other starch-based dishes provide feelings of fullness and warmth. Their bulk is equated with being sated and content.

This wide range demonstrates the diversity of foods that can provide nostalgia, indulgence, and familiarity unmatched by other cuisines. Understanding these categories and motivations is key for food brands looking to create authentic comfort food experiences.

Despite this diversity, several common characteristics emerged of what makes food a “comfort food.”

Filling and Warm

Foods like soups, stews, and casseroles are prized for their warmth and hearty portions. The physical comfort of being full and heated seems to evoke psychological feelings of safety and care.


Rich flavours like chocolate, salty snacks, and fried foods provide pleasure by stimulating the senses. These tastes remind us of enjoyable memories or experiences, uplifting our mood.


Foods connected to our personal history or culture, like family recipes or holiday dishes, offer a sense of nostalgia and tradition. Eating these comforts provides psychological solace and grounding.


Simple foods that require minimal prep and effort, like sandwiches or pre-packaged meals, reduce stress by being conveniently accessible. Their ease of consumption adds to the comfort.

But why do we crave these foods for comfort in the first place? The reasons are multifaceted:

Triggers for Comfort Food

Emotional Comfort and Well-being

Consumers in the UK turn to comfort foods like chocolate or ice cream in states of stress or sadness for emotional well-being because

Insight: Consumers want immediate emotional relief, often linked to childhood or positive past experiences, from comfort food for emotional comfort and well-being.

Physical Satisfaction and Fulfilment

UK consumers choose hearty, filling foods like warm stews for physical satiety and fulfilment as a way to momentarily disconnect from the complexities of modern life and reconnect with simpler, more emotionally fulfilling experiences. This reconnection provides a profound sense of emotional fulfilment and grounding, which is essential in maintaining overall mental health and happiness.

Insight: Consumers want a way to disconnect from modern complexities and reconnect with simpler, emotionally fulfilling experiences for physical satisfaction and fulfilment from comfort food.

Convenience and Ease

In the UK, a busy lifestyle leads to a preference for convenient meals like ready-to-eat sandwiches because Consumers believe that reducing the effort and time involved in meal preparation helps manage their overall stress levels, which are often elevated due to the demands of modern life, whilst at the same time gain an emotional benefit

Insight: Consumers want to manage their stress levels while gaining emotional benefits from comfort food with immediacy and ease.

Sensory Appeal and Indulgence

UK consumers indulge in rich pastries or gourmet burgers for sensory pleasure to enhance life satisfaction and mental health. Consumers use sensory appeal and indulgence as a means of self-reward and psychological break from the challenges in their lives. Self-rewarding through food creates a sense of personal satisfaction and happiness.

Insight: Consumers want self-reward and a psychological breakthrough sensory pleasure, enhancing life satisfaction and mental health from comfort food for sensory appeal and indulgence.

Social and Cultural Influences

Social events and cultural traditions in the UK influence comfort food choices like pizza during gatherings because Comfort food choices are influenced by the desire to maintain social relationships and cultural identity.

Insight: Consumers want to maintain social relationships and cultural identity through shared food choices from comfort food for social and cultural influences.

Health and Dietary Considerations

Health-conscious UK consumers choose comfort foods like veggie-loaded pizza for dietary needs because Health-conscious comfort food choices embody the modern consumer’s desire for balance between pleasure and well-being.

Insight: Consumers want a balance between pleasure and well-being, catering to health-conscious dietary needs from comfort food for health and dietary considerations.

Environmental and Seasonal Factors

Seasonal changes in the UK, like cold weather, influence preferences for warm soups or light summer desserts because Seasonal comfort food choices reflect the human need to cope and find pleasure in changing environments.

Insight: Consumers want to cope and find pleasure in changing environments, reflected in seasonal food preferences from comfort food for environmental and seasonal factors.

The insights reveal that comfort foods go far beyond just taste. They hold deep personal, social, and cultural meaning that taps into our lifelong relationship with food. Understanding these connections is invaluable for food brands looking to create truly comforting and uplifting products


Our research and insight discover the diverse range of comfort foods consumers crave, from fast food to ethnic specialities, and find 11 common types. It reveals that comfort foods are defined as being filling, tasty, emotionally significant, and easy to consume and that cravings are triggered by needs for emotional, physical, sensory, social, cultural, health, and environmental comfort.

It’s not just Comfort Food where we can discover insight and unlock potential; contact Creating Possibilities for more information