Read if before you pick your next meal on an aircraft Photo:
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Yes, eating on an aircraft isn’t the most enjoyable gastronomic experience. But have you ever wondered why that glass of bubbly on a flight seems harsher on your tongue? Or why a tomato juice feels luscious and rich? Turns out, there’s a scientific reason for why you aren’t enjoying your meal in the sky and why airlines pick some foods over others for their inflight meals. Here’s a quick breakdown.
How does the cabin change my tastebuds?
Planes typically cruise at altitudes of 31,000-40,000 feet, while cabin altitude is maintained at 6,000 to 8,000 feet above sea level. Dry air in an aircraft can limit our sense of smell, one of the most important factors when it comes to taste. Lower air pressure, loud noises on the aircraft and the lack of humidity all impact the way we taste food. A study by Lufthansa revealed that jarring noises such as those from an aircraft engine can suppress the taste of sweet foods. Salt is perceived to be between 20 and 30 percent less powerful and sugar, 15 to 20 percent less intense, at high altitudes, according to the same research study.
Does this affect beverages too?
Yes! As tastebuds are dulled mid-air, you’re less likely to taste the notes of a delicate Chablis or a light Chardonnay. Wines tend to thin out and become less robust while in the air and Champagne tends to become more acidic. If you must consume wine on a flight, experts recommend doing so early on, so your tastebuds are not completely dried out. Aircraft tend to stock stronger, full-bodied wines and a lot of tomato juice for this very reason. When consumed in the skies, tomato juice tends to lose some of its tang, giving it a velvety, lush flavour. So maybe pick a Bloody Mary over the bubbles next time?
So how do airlines deal with this?
The findings in 2010 led to Lufthansa adding more seasoning and spices to airline meals, to ensure they retained flavour while up in the air. For a while now, airlines have begun to incorporate herbs, citrus oils and bolder flavours to enhance the taste and aroma of their meals. In 2013, British Airways replaced blander cheese with stronger ones, pairing goat’s cheese, olive oil and sundried tomatoes in Business Class. In 2019, Cathay Pacific launched an original craft beer, ‘Betsy’ with roasted barley and orange peel, engineered to taste better on a flight.
What kind of foods are likely to taste better on an aircraft?
If you can pick what your inflight meal will be, opt for bolder flavours for a more memorable meal. Favour dishes that are likely to be more spiced and seasoned, such as those from Thai and Indian cuisine. Spices such as cardamom and lemongrass are more pronounced. Also, umami flavours in certain cheeses, soy sauce and curry taste more intense in the sky than salt or sugar. If you see meats paired with a sauce, pick that option, as the sauce will prevent the protein from completely drying out.