Briefly why does food taste different on planes
When your taste buds are way above the clouds, your normal sense of taste goes right out of the aeroplane’s window. Katia Moskvitch investigates why this happens, and how airlines are trying to find ways to get our appetites back on track.
Everything that makes up the in-flight experience, it turns out, affects how your food tastes. “Food and drink really do taste different in the air compared to on the ground,” says Charles Spence, professor of experimental psychology at Oxford University. “There are several reasons for this: lack of humidity, lower air pressure, and the background noise.”
When you step on an aeroplane, the atmosphere inside the cabin affects your sense of smell first. Then, as the plane gets higher, the air pressure drops while humidity levels in the cabin plummet. At about 30,000 feet, humidity is less than 12% – drier than most deserts.
The combination of dryness and low pressure reduces the sensitivity of your taste buds to sweet and salty foods by around 30%, according to a 2010 study conducted by Germany’s Fraunhofer Institute for Building Physics, commissioned by German airline Lufthansa. To investigate this the researchers used a special lab that reduced air pressure simulating cruising at 35,000 feet (10.6km) – as well as sucking moisture out of the air and simulating the engine noise. It even made seats vibrate in its attempts to mimic an in-flight meal experience.
Interestingly, the study found that we take leave of our sweet and salty senses only. Sour, bitter and spicy flavours are almost unaffected.