Engineering Comfort Foods

American Demographics; Detroit 22.7 (Jul 2000): 66-67.

7 Pages Posted: 30 Jul 2014 Last revised: 29 Apr 2017

Date Written: July 29, 2014


It is a cold and rainy afternoon. You decide that a bowl of chicken soup would hit the spot. While eating the soup, you smile as you are reminded of a rainy day when you were young and your mother made you the same soup.

Ever had a craving for a pint of Double Chocolate Chip ice cream when you were sad? A turkey sandwich when you were happy? These are comfort foods; A specific food consumed under a specific situation. In essence, a comfort food is a food a person eats to obtain a degree of psychological comfort. This may be a bowl of soup on a cold day, a pint of ice cream when we are sad, or a turkey sandwich when we are happy.

Fifteen years of my research can be summarized in saying "People’s tastes are not formed by accident." The more we know behind the psychology of foods, the more we can know about how to help people consciously control what they eat. At the Food and Brand Lab at the University of Illinois, we have been studying comfort foods to better understand the answers to three key questions: 1) What are comfort foods?, 2) When do people eat comfort foods?, and 3) How are comfort foods formed?

To begin to answer these questions three major studies were conducted. In the first, in-depth phone interviews of 411 randomly selected individuals (63% female) from across the US was conducted. Besides being asked their favorite comfort foods, these individuals were also asked open-ended questions as to how these foods became comfort foods. The resulting insights were then used to generate a quantitative 20 minute phone survey that was conducted with a stratified sample of 1005 other individuals from across the US. A third study involved in-depth laddering interviews of snack food fanatics. In combination, these three studies give us some early insights into the engineering of comfort foods.

Suggested Citation

Wansink, Brian, Engineering Comfort Foods (July 29, 2014). American Demographics; Detroit 22.7 (Jul 2000): 66-67., Available at SSRN: or

Brian Wansink (Contact Author)

Retired - Cornell University ( email )

Do you have a job opening that you would like to promote on SSRN?

Paper statistics

Abstract Views
PlumX Metrics