Honoring the Dead By Feeding Them

Understanding the food-filled altars of Día de los Muertos

You may not have noticed, but the elaborate Día de los Muertos altars that pop up this time of year are full of really good-looking (and presumably good-tasting) food. They’re loaded with freshly baked pan de muerto (an anise-and-cinnamon-spiced sweet bread baked only at this time of the year—and exclusively for this purpose), platters brimming with things like dark mole made from scratch, and piles of ripe fruit. Not to mention unopened bottles of the beers, wines, and spirits that deceased honorees liked to drink when they were alive.

Fruit, aromatic pan de muerto (sweet, spongy, egg bread baked with cinnamon, anise, and citrus zest), and nicuatole (a milk custard gelatinized with toasted corn powder) are essential altar treats.

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Comfort Food Is Real: Scientists Discover 'Good Mood Foods'

New research pinpoints foods with mood-boosting effects similar to those in prescription mood stabilizers.

The phrase "comfort food" has traditionally been more marketing than anything else, used to describe foods or menus that take us back to childhood or make us feel warm and cozy on a cold day. Mac 'n' cheese and fried chicken tend to be involved. But scientists looking at the effects of different foods and food flavors on mood have recently found evidence that certain flavors are truly comforting.

At the national meeting of the American Chemical Society last month, Karina Martinez-Mayorga, Ph.D., presented the latest findings from her ongoing study of the effect of various food flavors on mood. It turns out that molecules in chocolate, a variety of berries and foods containing omega-3 fatty acids positively affect mood. Moreover, Martinez-Mayorga and her team have found that the chemical components of these food flavors are structurally similar to valproic acid, the primary ingredient in several pharmaceutical mood stabilizers, including Depakene, Depakote and Stavzor.

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