September 23, 2019

Airline food: Why food tastes different on an airplane

Plane food usually tastes, well, plain. The food served on board leaves much to be desired, especially if you’re sitting in economy. But even if the meal looks and smells unappetizing, if you’re on a long haul flight you have no choice but to eat it. However it isn’t necessarily the airlines fault – flying has a big effect on the taste of in-flight food and drinks, and here are some of the reasons why.

A meal that would be delicious on ground might taste completely different when it is eaten up in the air. This is because you’re body’s ability to perceive taste is hindered when flying. One of the main reasons is the altitude. Your taste buds do not work optimally at 35,000 feet above ground because the air pressure desensitizes them. Another major factor affecting the taste of your food is the fact that the air in the cabin is dry. Your mouth dries out, which also lowers your taste bud’s sensitivity. Your nose, which also plays a huge role in taste and flavour perception, also dries out. The fact that flying dehydrates you just perpetuates the problem. 

The in-flight cooked meals are prepared and cooked beforehand on the ground. They are reheated in the plane before serving, and sometimes reheated foods just don’t measure up to freshly prepared meals. Some foods dry out when reheated, and even more so in a plane since the cabin air is so dry. This is why they make a lot of meals are particularly saucy to prevent this issue. Other reasons why food doesn’t taste as it should is because factors like stress and a noisy environment have been shown to affect the perceived taste of food. 

Studies have shown that when you’re up in the air on a plane, the intensity of sweet and salty tastes are especially diminished. So you might find yourself adding more salt to your food or more sugar to your coffee than usual, which is something to keep in mind if you’re limiting your salt or sugar intake. Spicy and savoury flavours remain more stable and are less affected. 

So next time you’re dining at 35,000 feet, keep hydrated, hold back on the salt and sugar, and choose a spicy and savoury saucy meal like curry or stew, and your plane food may taste a little bit better.