Plate of noodles with mushrooms and cream sauce

What does comfort food mean to you?

Many people picture indulging in decadent food on a cold winter evening or after a bad day at work. Others think of the way a fresh fruit smoothie gives them an invigorating boost. Whatever you imagine, the essence of comfort food is feeling good.

The global uncertainty and change of the last three years has led to a rise in comfort food sales—one food delivery firm saw a 76% increase in the UK—as well as some exciting innovations. After spending extended periods of time at home during lockdowns, consumers have been crafting new takes on their favourite classics.

Chefs and culinary innovators are sharing their home cooking experiments, inspiring consumers to try new flavour combinations. Without losing the essence of the dishes we know and love, pairing classic favourites with a different ingredient, cooking method or meal occasion gives us a whole new cuisine—“classics with a twist”—to enjoy. In addition, these twists and trends take on a distinctly regional flair, which our global team have been exploring in their local markets.

Twists & Trends: Europe and North America

Cuisine fusion is popular in the UK, like loaded veggie fries with Mexican-inspired salsa, avocado, coriander and lime. They’re also seeing greater providence in cooking methods like slow-proved pizza dough, tossed by hand in Italy and stone baked.

Premium ingredients and flavour pairings are bringing an indulgent note to everyday dishes. US product innovation is demonstrating this trend, like a premium macaroni cheese flavour fusion with truffle and wild porcini mushrooms.

Back in Europe, the Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) identification is another way comfort food is being given a twist. From a four cheese pizza to parmesan cashew nuts, consumers are enjoying new innovations with favourite meals & snacks.

Twists & Trends: Asia

The ultimate Chinese comfort food is Xiao Long Bao, little steamed nuggets of minced pork with a burst of broth enclosed in a dough made from flour. Vendors and restaurants have created a myriad of their own versions, including infusions with crab meat, extra large ones for more of the same goodness, and others with seasonal vegetables added.

Meanwhile, chefs in some Southeast Asian countries are experimenting with kueh (or kuih in Malay). Kueh is a staple snack that can be sweet or savoury, and most are baked or steamed traditionally using a charcoal fire. Some chefs are creating variations of kueh using new filling ingredients, such as crushed roasted peanuts. Others apply new cooking methods to traditional ingredients for a unique texture and mouth feel. When tradition is given a cheeky yet respectful twist, it can charm even purists.

Xiao long bao (soup dumplings) illustration

The ultimate Chinese comfort food is Xiao Long Bao, little steamed nuggets of minced pork with a burst of broth enclosed in a dough made from flour.

From feeling the warmth of aromatic Thai-seasoned winter soup to savouring a serving of raclette with family, comfort food means many things to many people. Most importantly, whether it is home-cooked or store-bought, comfort food conjures nostalgic memories of the places and people we treasure. It reminds us of simpler times, when there was no problem so big it couldn’t be solved by food made with love.

Sources: What does comfort food mean to you? | Winter food and drink | The Guardian, Just Eat Takeaway orders soar 76% during six months of Covid restrictions | Couriers/delivery industry | The Guardian