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Why does food taste different in the air?

Author: The Association of South African Travel Agents Updated: 11:16 02-10-2017

There’s no denying your curiosity when confronted with an aircraft service trolley. What will this mile-high TV meal bring? Bland beef or chewy chicken?

If you think airplane food is insipid, you’re not entirely wrong – and the truth is, you can only blame yourself. Well, kind of.

The Association of Southern African Travel Agents (ASATA) unpacks why does food tastes different in the air. 

Under pressure

Essentially, you leave your normal sense of taste behind the moment the doors to an aircraft are armed.

Despite the fact that airplanes are well-pressurised, our senses simply struggle to perform at altitudes of 30,000+ feet. Flying at high altitude, mixed with a lack of humidity, plays havoc with your sense of smell, desensitises your tastebuds, and leaves you with a dulled ability to enjoy sweet and salty foods.

According to a study conducted by Germany's Fraunhofer Institute for Building Physics, salt is perceived up to 30% less intensely in the air, while sugar is 20% less intense.

And in case you’re wondering, the altered air pressure leaves people craving acidity and saltiness – hence the request for tomato juice.

Background noise

While the effects of reduced pressure in the aircraft cabin reduce the sensitivity of your taste buds, the constant noise of the aircraft’s engines also adversely affects your perception of flavour. You’re distracted by a different environment, which disengages your sensory capacity.

So it’s true – you really do lose your sense of taste during a flight.

Taking food to new heights

Jokes about airplane food are beginning to lose their flavour as airlines begin to invest more in onboard cuisine, seeking to stand out from the rest. Food is tested in-flight and in simulated environments, with an emphasis on quality ingredients and presentation.  

So, what will your next sky-high supper be? Soon, your flight attendant might be serving up some sliced duck breast on pineapple red pepper salsa or seafood salad with mango relish! 

Published: 13:30 26-09-2017

Posted by on September 26, 2017.

Categories: Flights, Travel

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Updated: 04:40 22-Mar-2018