The unnatural atmosphere of the airplane cabin can make you crave tomato juice. [Photo: Bigstock]

How air travel alters our sense of taste

14 May, 2015

Natural Health News — If you’re planning to fly somewhere over the summer ditch the sodas and other sweet drink and plan to drink some tomato juice instead.

While examining how airplane noise affects the palate, Cornell University food scientists have found that in noisy situations – like the 85 decibels aboard a jetliner – umami-rich foods become your taste bud’s best buds.

Umami is a Japaneses scientific term that describes the sweet, savory taste of amino acids such as glutamate in foods like tomato juice.

What you need to know

» Our sense of taste doesn’t begin and end in our tastebuds; our external environment can significantly change the way we perceive flavours.

» The unnatural atmosphere of a airplane cabin inhibits our ability to taste sweet things, an enhances our ability to taste umami i.e. the sweet savoury flavour of tomato juice.

“Our study confirmed that in an environment of loud noise, our sense of taste is compromised. Interestingly, this was specific to sweet and umami tastes, with sweet taste inhibited and umami taste significantly enhanced,” said Robin Dando, lead researcher and assistant professor of food science.

“The multisensory properties of the environment where we consume our food can alter our perception of the foods we eat.”

The study in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance may guide reconfiguration of airline food menus to make airline food taste better.

External environment affects taste

Taste perception doesn’t begin and end with your tastebuds but is in fact a multisensory interaction between the food or drink itself, but also on the sensory attributes of the environment in which the food is consumed, the scientists say.

Airlines acknowledge the phenomenon. German airline Lufthansa has found that passengers were consuming as much tomato juice as beer. The airline commissioned a private study released last year that showed cabin pressure enhanced tomato juice taste.

The work described the physiological effect of begin in an airplane (low air pressure, low humidity, high levels of noise and vibration), as being like having a cold – nothing quite tastes the same. To compensate airline food needs more seasoning to make it palatable.