Feel-good dishes: chocolate and co save us from the worst moods. Or are we just imagining it?

Do you know the Proust effect? He describes the phenomenon that some dishes, when we smell or taste them, are able to beam us into the past.

Feel-good dishes: chocolate and co save us from the worst moods. Or are we just imagining it?

Do you know the Proust effect? He describes the phenomenon that some dishes, when we smell or taste them, are able to beam us into the past. They have the magical power to bring back memories and warm the heart. This effect is named after Marcel Proust, who tells of such an experience in his novel "In Search of Lost Time". The flash of memories there is triggered by the French pastry madeleine. The narrator is said to flow through the narrator at this moment "an incredible feeling of happiness, which existed all by itself and the reason for which remained unknown to me".

Today Proust's Madeleines would probably be called comfort food, which can be translated as comfort food and "refers to foods which, when eaten, provide comfort or induce a sense of well-being". At least that's how the psychologist Charles Spence describes it in his article "Comfort food: A review". What the dishes have in common, according to Spence, is that they taste sweet and salty rather than sour and bitter - umami is also important.

A great thing. Food that lifts our spirits. But does that really exist or are we just imagining the positive influence in the end? It is clear that there is no universal feel-good food that has the same effect on everyone. Because what is comfort food for us also has something to do with our biography. As a rule, according to Spence, these are often foods that you loved as a child and with which you associate a person, a place or a specific time that you have saved as positive. Sentimentality also plays a role. They contain the promise of security, of home. This also explains why, when we need a culinary hug, we tend to reach for traditional dishes that were served by mothers rather than extravagant Michelin-starred cuisine.

Several researches confirm that the name comfort food is quite justified, as well as a small online survey in which 196 women and 81 men took part. In this study, however, it was mainly women who stated that they primarily consumed the so-called comfort food out of loneliness, depression or feelings of guilt. Feel-good dishes are love on the plate. They allow a brief escape from the present to a better time. They hold the promise of security and home. More precisely: They awaken memories of moments when we were fine and which we have saved in our emotional memory as a positive experience.

But that is only one truth. Men seem to tick very differently. They said they reward themselves with comfort food. Another study confirms that so-called consolation food is also served in moments of joy. Their results also indicate that, in most cases, comfort food is not consumed when people are depressed, but when they are in a happy mood. 74 percent of the participants said they chose these dishes to celebrate something or to reward themselves. Only 39 percent reported resorting to feel-good meals when they were in a bad mood or lonely.

From this point of view, comfort food is not only used as a means to counteract grief, but also to reinforce positive emotions. Does it work? That's the thing with the receipts. Because whether and if so what actually has a comforting effect on comfort food has not yet been clearly clarified. Apart from emotional triggers, however, a number of other factors are discussed in research that could actually play a role in increasing well-being. The placebo effect could also play a role. Or is it ultimately simply due to the ingredients?

As early as the mid-1980s, Jean-Francois Le Magnen described in "Hunger" that the consumption of certain foods "can lead to the release of traces of mood-enhancing opiates". For example, chocolate and other sweet, high-calorie foods are said to have a positive effect on mood, including releasing serotonin, writes psychologist Spence. In addition, sugar can trigger a kind of intoxication. However, this effect comes with a catch: the effect abruptly wears off, which can then lead to a short up being followed by a longer down and we are even worse off than before consumption.

Warm things held in hand, such as a bowl of soup or a cup of tea, could also have a calming effect. And then there's the mouthfeel thing, which Anneli Rufus touches on in an article that appeared in The Leader. "Most of us find comfort in the soft, sweet, smooth, salty, and unctuous," she writes.

Comfort food is multifaceted. The mechanisms of action that interact are complex. The sense of well-being that food evokes can surprise us, as described by Proust. However, we may also be able to specifically influence our mood through the choice of our dishes. Much is still unclear. But one thing is certain: a warm bowl of soup or a piece of chocolate are never wrong. Although, maybe that's still debatable.

Source: Study1, CNBC, Study 2, The Leader, Scinexx, Survey, Study 3, Stangl