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Is the Polar Vortex driving comfort food cravings?

As winter has returned to the central and eastern United States, many of us head to the kitchen for some of our favorite dishes.

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    A cyclist struggles through the snow on Genesee Street, Monday, Jan. 18, 2016, in Utica, N.Y.
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While you’re at the store stocking up on batteries for that incoming winter storm, don’t forget to stock up on all the comfort food fixings, too.

Scientists debate the measurable effects of these foods as mood elevators, but there is no doubt that a steaming bowl of something that makes you say “Nom!” paired with crusty bread is a winter win.

As temperatures drop in the Northeast, storm warnings roll and face-to-face social contacts decrease due to difficult travel conditions. So, the Internet has put on its eating pants and the virtual table groans from the weight of the pre-winter-storm-comfort-foodie posts.

In a July 2015 study, Jordan Troisi, an assistant professor of psychology at Sewanee, The University of The South and his colleagues found that comfort food has a “social utility” and the need for comfort food is often triggered by feelings of social isolation that come with a bout of cabin fever.

While Scandinavians may combat winter blahs with what the Danish call hygge (pronounced "hyOOguh") – a community process that makes winter fun, social, cozy and one big group hug – Americans eat away the darkness.

The result?

“People crave for soups and braised foods though a lot of people when they are stuck in the house finally end up making burgers,” says former "Iron Chef" contestant and restaurant owner Jehangir Mehta of New York City in an interview with the Monitor.

On Facebook, over 943,000 people are searching the words “comfort food” and Pinterest is awash in rich sauces as users post their love of everything from New England clam chowder, soul food grits and spicy vegan-friendly pot pies to Panamanian beef stew.

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However, neuroscientist turned “Foodist” Darya Rose says in an interview that, “We crave comfort foods because we seek comfort foods in times of stress and discomfort, which can be amplified by extreme climate conditions such as cold and darkness.”

Meanwhile, science aside, Chef Andrew Zimmern is offering his followers 12 comfort foods to get you through January and February.

According to his spokesperson, Chef Zimmern’s personal favorite comfort food is his grandmother’s Kielbasa & Pea Soup and Matzoh Ball soup.

Instagram is also home to a number of comfort foodie postings.

T.J. Waterfall on Instagram is a vegan who has crossed platforms from Instagram to Twitter with recipes for what he calls “Proper hearty, winter, food” including carrot, parsnip, chickpea & turmeric soup and stuffed peppers and portobello mushroom plus cauliflower 'steak' with pesto.

But what is it about comfort food that brings comfort? Is it some special ingredient? Probably not, says Dr. Rose. “The irony is that the comfort foods themselves are no more effective at reducing stress than any other type of food, according to the latest research," she says. "We simply believe they are more mood enhancing.” 

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