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Why Does Airplane Food Taste So Bad?

Dorathy Gass

Frequent flyers dread airplane travel for many reasons, and sometimes at the top of that dislike list is the breakfast/lunch/dinner/snacks provided on flight. According to recent research, the underlying reason for this could be the plane itself, and not necessarily the food served en route.

A study has shown that the noise within an airplane can change an individual’s taste. Published in the March edition of the Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance, the research project gathered 48 individuals, asking them to sample items within a room that sounded like an airplane cabin, and a room that was quiet. The results: those who sampled in the airplane cabin room were unable to appreciate sweet and umami (savory) flavors. The sound ultimately altered the perceptions of taste for these individuals by approximately 10 to 15 percent. The study team concluded that this is likely because of sensory links between sound and the nerves in an ear.

MSN explains why tomato juice (high in umami flavor), seems to taste so different to most people on airplanes. In 2008, employees at Lufthansa started to realize that passengers were drinking close to the same amount of tomato juice, as beer, while flying; which is shocking for the German carrier, as their catering executive noted how much Germans love their beer.

Factors other than noise can also change the way passengers taste foods when up in the air. Dry air can affect nasal mucus, which might result in an individual’s membranes swelling up, causing taste buds to numb while flying. A 2010 study, launched by Lufthansa, discovered that savory and sweet perceptions decreased to about 30 percent during these conditions while flying, making it hard to really taste differing kinds of food.

Perhaps it is best to try and sneak in a meal and snacks, prior to boarding an airplane when travelling!