What is it about dishes that makes them comfort foods? It seems that the phrase “comfort food” has been around for decades, evoking feelings of indulgence and familiarity.

Researchers have discovered some contradictions in what we consider comfort food. For example, a 2010 study found that people experiencing more turmoil in their lives were more likely to choose foods they had never tried before rather than sticking with familiar options. Scientists have also wondered whether the calories in comfort foods might boost mood in some way, but the evidence for this is inconclusive. In fact, a study of 1,400 people in North America found that men were more likely to eat comfort foods as a celebration, while women tended to report feeling guilty after eating them. Despite these contradictions, it is clear that comfort food holds a special place in many people’s hearts. Whether it’s a bowl of warm soup on a cold day, a slice of gooey chocolate cake, or a bowl of macaroni and cheese, these dishes bring a sense of comfort and familiarity that can be hard to find elsewhere. It is possible that the emotional connection we have with certain foods, rather than the specific ingredients or nutrients they contain, is what makes them comforting to us.

While it may be hard to pinpoint exactly what makes a food a “comfort food,” it is clear that these dishes play an important role in our emotional lives. Whether we are seeking solace in times of sadness or celebrating a special occasion, comfort food is often an integral part of the experience.