Why Food Served in Planes Taste Different

Mar 31, 2016 08:58 AM EDT | By Chandan Das

Crew members of China Southern Airlines choose food that will be provided on their first direct flights from Guangzhou to Taiwan, at a restaurant of the carrier January 26, 2005 in Guangzhou of Guangdong Province, China.
Crew members of China Southern Airlines choose food that will be provided on their first direct flights from Guangzhou to Taiwan, at a restaurant of the carrier January 26, 2005 in Guangzhou of Guangdong Province, China.
(Photo : China Photos/Getty Images)

Most of us have tasted the unappetizing mid-flight meals and there is no doubt that they have a very poor reputation. While you may be wondering why the food had an entirely different flavor when served at an altitude of 35,000 feet, the fact is that there are a number of scientific principles that affect both one's sense of taste as well as the food.

Lack of Adequate Humidity: Lufthansa and Delta commissioned scientists who spent plenty of time studying why and how the cabin environment affects the taste of food during flights. Findings of a 2010 study backed by Lufthansa showed that the air inside the cabin is roughly 15 percent lesser humid during the flights. As a result, the passenger also feels more dehydrated and dry-mouthed.

Not Enough Pressure: While the pressure inside the cabin imitates the air pressure on the ground, but it is not same as what one would feel at the sea level. In such conditions, the bodily fluids of a passenger move upwards, while the nasal cavities swell. According to one researcher, it is somewhat like having a cold, making your sense of smell and taste dull.

Louder Environment: Moreover, inside a flight it is somewhat louder, generally around 85 decibels - something you experience from inside a car while driving amidst a busy traffic. In fact, this can also influence our taste preferences, slowing down our ability to taste something sweet. At the same time, it enhances our appreciation for umami. This is one reason why umami-tomato juice is so popular on flights, the findings of a study undertaken by Cornell University in 2015 suggested.

Simply speaking, our taste buds do not function optimally under such conditions, The Kitchn reported. In fact, this is why we are usually unable to appreciate the delicate notes of a good wine or the essence of bay leaf in a good sauce.

Nevertheless, the good news is that plane food is getting better. In the past, food served during flight was not of good quality. The caterer prepares these meals and partly cooks them on the ground. Subsequently, they are chilled and later reheated before serving them during the flight. These days, chefs create recipes taking into account the air pressure and humidity levels aboard an aircraft. They simply need to be changed a little from their sea-level counterparts.


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