Flying isn't fun at the best of times. From getting stuck next to perfect strangers for hours at a time, to screaming babies that the world's best earplugs can't block out; travelling via aircraft is generally a horrible experience. If there's one thing that makes the experience even less pleasurable, however, it's the food.
So what's going on here? Are airlines really that terrible at making good food? As it turns out, a major contributing factor to the taste of airplane food is actually nothing to do with the food itself, but our noses.
According to a 2010 Lufthansa study, cabin air is about 15 per cent less humid during flight. That makes a passenger feel more dehydrated, and can have quite a significant effect on our ability to smell. Since smell and taste are so strongly linked, a weakened sniffer majorly compromises the taste of the food we eat.
A new study from Cornell University has found that the loud, high frequency noise of an airplane cabin can significantly alter our perceptions of taste. Incredibly, it can make sweet foods taste less sweet, and give savoury flavours a stronger kick. Weird.
Robin Dando, who worked on the study, said:
“Our study confirmed that in an environment of loud noise, our sense of taste is compromised. Interestingly, this was specific to sweet and umami tastes, with sweet taste inhibited and umami taste significantly enhanced. The multisensory properties of the environment where we consume our food can alter our perception of the foods we eat.”
However, it's not all bad news. An enhanced umami flavour - which is found in foods like tomato, mushroom, and miso - can actually make certain dishes taste better. Lufthansa have found this taste for tomato means that while airborne, passengers drink as much tomato juice as beer - that's about 425,000 gallons a year. Bring on the Bloody Mary please air hostess!