BREAKING NEWS Alabama adds 583 new coronavirus cases; 131,988 cases confirmed since March Full Story

What makes chocolate chip cookies so addictive?

When I reflect on my childhood baking memories, one that stands out is a tray of warm chocolate chip cookies...

Posted: Aug 30, 2018 7:13 PM
Updated: Aug 30, 2018 7:13 PM

When I reflect on my childhood baking memories, one that stands out is a tray of warm chocolate chip cookies coming out of the oven. It was so tempting to eat the raw dough while making them -- talk about a lesson in delayed gratification -- but in 20 or so minutes, delicious buttery, sugary cookies dotted with chocolate chips would be ready to enjoy.

Never mind fancy desserts; chocolate chip cookies have always been one of my favorite treats. And if you are like me and find them irresistible, you probably can't stop after a few bites.

Business and industry sectors

Business, economy and trade

Consumer products

Food and drink

Food products

Kinds of foods and beverages

Sweets and desserts

Arts and entertainment

Classical music

Cooking and entertaining

Dairy products

Leisure and lifestyle

Music

Music and dance

Musical styles

Sugar

Sweeteners

"Even today, after eating and living with them for 40 years, I still can't stop eating them," said Kathleen King, founder of Tate's Bake Shop in Southampton, New York, and creator of the top-rated chocolate chip cookie according to Consumer Reports. "I am either eating no cookies, or I am eating several. I can't have one."

But what exactly makes chocolate chip cookies so universally craved in the first place?

The emotional attachment to chocolate chip cookies

"I think a lot of it has to do with the connection to our past, whether it was a grandmother, a mother, a place visited, a summer home or family time. It's also usually the first cookie every child learned how to make, and so I think there's a tremendous emotional attachment and remembrance with the chocolate chip cookie," King said. "Lifestyles are changing, but that connection is still hanging on."

Eating chocolate chip cookies can be associated with a range of emotions. "If I'm celebrating, I can have a couple of cookies, but if I'm sad, I want 10 cookies," she said. "While the cookie is in your mouth, that moment is happiness -- and then it's gone, and you're sad again, and you have another one."

The happiness that comes from sharing homemade chocolate chip cookies cannot be underestimated. King, who started baking chocolate chip cookies and selling them when she was 11 years old, said her biggest motivator for baking them was the joy they brought other people. "That really made me happy -- and probably, a lot of people that bake will say the same thing: Sharing [chocolate chip cookies] makes people happy."

Addictive ingredients

Aside from the emotional comfort that chocolate chip cookies may provide, there may be scientific explanations for why we salivate for them. Some research suggests that ingredients in chocolate chip cookies may have additive properties. Take sugar: Evidence in humans shows that sugar and sweetness can induce rewards and cravings comparable in magnitude to those induced by addictive drugs, including cocaine.

A traditional chocolate chip cookie recipe calls for ¾ cup of granulated sugar and ¾ cup of brown sugar, yielding 10 grams, or 2.5 teaspoons, of sugar per cookie.

Then there's the chocolate, which, in addition to sugar, contains small amounts of a compound known as anandamide. Interestingly, anandamide is also a brain chemical that targets the same cell receptors as THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), the active ingredient in marijuana that is responsible for its mood-altering effects. That's not to say chocolate will produce the same "high" as marijuana, but there may be a chemical basis for the pleasure we get from eating chocolate.

According to Gary Wenk, director of neuroscience undergraduate programs at the Ohio State University and author of "Your Brain on Food," high-fat, sugar-rich cookies will raise the level of anandamide in our brains independent of what's in the cookie, because it's our body's response to eating such a tasty item. "The fat and sugar combine to induce our addiction as much as does the anandamide," Wenk said. "It's a triple play of delight."

Texture and flavor: Key to a cookie's addictive characteristics

All of this science may sound intriguing, but the simplest explanation for why chocolate chip cookies are so delectable may have to do with the mix of ingredients that combine in a way that appeals to our senses.

"A chocolate chip cookie is a brilliant contrast among the flavors and among the textures," said Gail Vance Civille, founder and president of Sensory Spectrum, a consulting firm that helps companies learn how sensory cues drive consumer perceptions of products.

The flavor of chocolate chip cookies, according to Civille, is "a beautiful amalgam of caramelized butter and sugar," the result of the browning of butter and caramelizing of sugar while it bakes. The combination of the toasted grain with the browned butter, caramelized sugar, vanilla and chocolate are "the beautiful rich flavors that blend together in a chocolate chip cookie," she said. And as the chocolate melts, it becomes more aromatic and punches up the flavor.

It sounds counterintuitive, but salt is important too, even in sweet treats. "It is what adds interest to food, even if it's a sweet food, because it makes the sugar and other ingredients taste better and come together better," Civille said. "A pinch of salt in cookies really makes a difference, and it enhances sweetness a little bit."

King noted that "with Tate's, we were the first to do the thin and crisp, which is kind of an addictive mouthfeel, and we were also the first to do a little bit heaver on the salt. People don't even put salt in cookies, but [without salt], it tastes flat."

Other secrets to making delicious chocolate chip cookies include using butter instead of shortening or margarine; brown sugar, which has a molasses-like quality to it; and pure vanilla, according to King. A high-quality flour and a really good chocolate chip are also important.

The texture of chocolate chip cookies also plays a big role in their appeal. "Just on the texture side, [the chocolate chip cookie] has a lot going for it," Civille said.

"Every bite will be interesting. ... You will hit the cookie, which has crispness due to air pockets in the cookie crumb, and then the chocolate, which is dense and uniform when you bite through it. It's like a symphony orchestra playing together. ... It's very harmonious," she said.

One of the simplest ways to test whether the flavor and texture of chocolate chip cookies are "addictive enough" is to observe people eating them.

"When I would create any product, if I put it out as a sample to my staff and if I didn't watch them unconsciously go back and take some more, then I felt it wasn't good enough. There's a lot of good, but I didn't want good. I wanted that addictive thing," King said.

Personal preferences

Although there are some universally appealing qualities of chocolate chip cookies that make them so addictive, specific preferences may vary from person to person. One may crave chocolate chip cookies that are soft and gooey; another may long for crispy, crunchy cookies.

Most people prefer semisweet chips, which have a soft melting quality that can lend itself to a more addictive mouthfeel with the crunchy caramelized cookie, according to King. But some may opt for milk chocolate, and others may like the taste of bittersweet chocolate in their cookies.

The optimal ratio of chocolate chips to cookie is also a personal preference. "I'll put a bag on the table, and my husband will turn them over and look for the least amount of chips, but I'll look for the most," King said.

A happy indulgence

Whatever one's individual chocolate chip cookie preference -- or "addiction" -- it's fair to say that these beloved cookies can have a place in a balanced diet, as long as you are willing to keep portions in check.

"The main thing is not to think of food as good food and bad food. It's all good. It's how much you eat of it," King said. "I used to be overweight, and I had that in my mind, if I ate a cookie, that was bad and now the day is ruined, instead of just, 'that's cool.' "

So whether it feels like a true "addiction" or not, indulging in a chocolate chip cookie or two should be a happy experience.

Huntsville
Scattered Clouds
57° wxIcon
Hi: 76° Lo: 57°
Feels Like: 57°
Florence
Clear
58° wxIcon
Hi: 76° Lo: 59°
Feels Like: 58°
Fayetteville
Clear
57° wxIcon
Hi: 76° Lo: 57°
Feels Like: 57°
Decatur
Clear
57° wxIcon
Hi: 76° Lo: 57°
Feels Like: 57°
Scottsboro
Clear
57° wxIcon
Hi: 76° Lo: 56°
Feels Like: 57°
WAAY Radar
WAAY WAAY-TV Cam
WAAY Temperatures

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Confirmed Cases: 131988

Reported Deaths: 2304
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Jefferson19123337
Mobile13122290
Montgomery8688173
Madison763075
Tuscaloosa7323114
Lee575159
Shelby571950
Baldwin508749
Marshall387943
Calhoun337439
Etowah336547
Morgan321426
Houston272722
Elmore255847
DeKalb237119
St. Clair224335
Walker224380
Talladega207726
Limestone200119
Cullman186218
Dallas174926
Franklin174528
Russell17312
Autauga169124
Lauderdale165333
Colbert160926
Escambia156425
Blount156014
Jackson151611
Chilton150227
Dale133343
Covington131127
Coffee12838
Pike11619
Tallapoosa113683
Chambers113242
Clarke105517
Marion94828
Butler91138
Barbour8387
Winston71612
Marengo70119
Lowndes64927
Pickens63814
Bibb63610
Randolph62212
Hale61528
Lawrence59220
Bullock59114
Geneva5814
Monroe5768
Cherokee56916
Clay5527
Washington54913
Perry5386
Wilcox53111
Conecuh52411
Crenshaw52331
Macon47820
Henry4754
Fayette4269
Sumter41819
Lamar3532
Choctaw34512
Cleburne3326
Greene30015
Coosa1653
Out of AL00
Unassigned00

Tennessee Coronavirus Cases

Confirmed Cases: 184409

Reported Deaths: 2233
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Shelby30155447
Davidson26017293
Hamilton914489
Rutherford903187
Knox899872
Williamson508936
Sumner470593
Wilson337343
Putnam307037
Out of TN301324
Montgomery296243
Unassigned28916
Bradley285816
Madison270156
Sevier251813
Blount244023
Maury226023
Washington217933
Robertson217233
Sullivan205431
Hamblen183825
Tipton173917
Trousdale16517
Gibson153819
Hardeman153225
Wayne14805
Bedford130916
Dyer127912
Dickson119913
Cumberland115317
Fayette114318
Anderson113311
Henderson113119
Carter112627
Weakley111819
Loudon11156
Coffee110812
Greene110737
Obion10889
McMinn106824
Jefferson106614
Macon102020
Warren10127
Monroe100116
Lawrence97011
Hardin96714
Lauderdale93615
Haywood92116
Lake9152
Franklin9137
Bledsoe8454
Roane8414
Carroll83217
McNairy81016
Cheatham79010
White7849
Rhea78111
Hawkins77016
Cocke7349
Marshall7175
Overton6805
Smith67810
Johnson6482
Henry6029
Chester5919
Lincoln5791
Giles56817
DeKalb54611
Hickman5385
Crockett51319
Marion5007
Decatur4786
Fentress4363
Claiborne4304
Campbell4193
Polk37811
Grainger3503
Union3371
Benton3329
Jackson3055
Morgan3053
Unicoi2801
Cannon2760
Grundy2495
Humphreys2323
Sequatchie2233
Meigs2213
Clay2105
Scott2002
Houston1860
Lewis1771
Stewart1752
Moore1541
Van Buren1530
Perry1460
Hancock1063
Pickett982

Community Events