Why Do Flight Meals Taste So Bad?

Find airplane food bland? Don’t blame the airlines. It’s not them. It’s YOU. 

Updated
Health News
2 min read
(Photo: iStock)

Airplane food sucks. Pretty much every TV show on earth has made a plane food joke. But now there is a scientific reason for that dull taste. And no, it’s not lousy cooking by the chef!

Turns out, everything that makes your in-flight experience affects the way your food tastes and the biggest culprit is the cabin air: incredibly dry and very cold.

(Photo: iStock)
(Photo: iStock)

The Experiment

Cornell University conducted a study on 48 people handing them a variety of drinks spiked with five basic tastes: sweet, salty, bitter, sour and umami (that savoury taste in cheese and soy sauce)

The testers first had the drinks in silence and then wearing headphones playing noisy sounds designed to mimic the buzz of jet engines.

Now even as the drinks remained same, respondents said the background noise dulled the sweet taste and intensified the savoury.

So even if the food tastes perfect on the ground, it becomes bland in the skies. At 30,000 ft the first thing which goes is your sense of taste, almost like you had a cold.

(Photo: iStock)
(Photo: iStock)

Dry Air and Low Pressure

Upto 80% of what you consider taste is actually smell.

Cabin air is drier than most deserts and it numbs your sense of smell and taste by a THIRD! That means your tandoori parantha will need 30% more salt in the plane for it to not be so ‘meh’.

Cardamom and lemongrass work much better for seasoning than salt, sugar and oregano. Tea lovers are in luck. Twinings has come up with a new range of specially designed tea which doesn’t lose flavour at high altitude.

A special range of Twinings Tea blends perfectly well at high altitudes (Photo: iStock)
A special range of Twinings Tea blends perfectly well at high altitudes (Photo: iStock)

The Good News

The surprise element: even as sweet and salty become bland, umami flavours (tomatoes, soy, cheese) retain their taste. So if airlines want to find a way to make on-air meals better, they now know which flavours to play with.

Did science just give you a reason to have your favourite cocktail while travelling? (Photo: iStock)
Did science just give you a reason to have your favourite cocktail while travelling? (Photo: iStock)

That said, pass the headphones and order a Bloody Mary (or four)!

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