Opinion: Winter comfort food

Winter is no longer coming! Winter has arrived. It’s cold and dark outside. I live in Queensland – where for only the second time since 1984, it is snowing. It’s time for warming comfort food.

By Jeremy Ryland


Comfort food. It even sounds warm and welcoming – like cuddling up by the fire on a cold winter’s day. Comfort food trends have seen a resurgence in recent years and our desire for comfort food seems to be holding strong. 

So what is comfort food? Generally it's the food we have good memories about and the food we think of when we hear the word homemade … old-fashioned traditional foods that not only warm us up but bring back memories of simpler times, warming our hearts.

Comfort foods are foods that make us feel safe, warm and protected. They are simple, uncomplicated meals that relieve stress and remind us of our childhood or time spent with parents, grandparents and other special people. Their flavours bring back memories and emotions of good times past. In recent years, our palates have become more international and discerning, and our waistlines dictate that we eat a little less – and thus some foods have been lost in time. But “memory” foods transcend time and deserve to be revisited.

The human senses of taste and smell can transport us back in time. Through food, you can hear the laughter and squabbling as a child. You can see places in your mind that you have not been to for some time. 

Comfort foods include basic products such as lamb, slow cooked until it falls off the bone, rich and full of flavour as it melts in the mouth … or cakes and puddings with sweet, heady aromas that calm the spirit and make you crave for more. Winter is a time to enjoy foods full of flavour and memories.

Why the increased desire for comfort foods? It seems to be a combination of things. People are busier and more stressed than ever. There is a lot of uncertainty – people are “cocooning”. The last few years have also resulted in many of us feeling less safe in the world. We want to feel warm and safe again, the way we did when we were young and the world seemed simpler.

Science attempts to explain our need for comfort food as a chemical reaction in the brain. The brain releases certain "feel good" hormones into the body to compensate for all the different negative feelings that overwhelm us in everyday life, such as fatigue, stress or illness.

But, I think there is a deeper connection to feelings and the need for comfort foods. After all, if it was all hormonally induced then we would all agree upon what is a comfort food and what is not, but one person's comfort food is another person's dieting nemesis.

Comfort food trend watchers say that we are craving the foods we grew up with. We're expressing an interest in eating everything from soups to barbecued offerings to slow-cooked roasts with all the trimmings.

As much as we love our comfort foods, many of us now look for ways to turn them into healthier choices, with a lower fat content and fewer kilojoules. We tweak those great recipes from the past, so that we maintain (or sometimes even improve) the taste but forgo some of the fat, unhealthy carbs and sugar content. And while most of us are still eating our favourite comfort foods, maybe it's just a little less often. We might decide to share that piece of amazing cheesecake, so we get the taste but not the kilos. 

We're going back to our roots – but with a nod to healthy food choices and a few wonderful, tasty twists along the way.