Why airline food tastes so bland

2013-08-16 10:52
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Gross things in airline food

Cockroaches, needles and even a lizard - check out these disgusting things that have ended up in in-flight meals.

When's the last time you enjoyed your in-flight meal? Your answer is probably "never." 

MSNBC reports that maybe it's not the food that's so bad, rather our perception of it. As it turns out, there's a scientific reason why food is less savory at 30 000 feet.

Even before takeoff, cabin humidity decreases to about 12%. Once at altitude, the combination of the dry air and pressure change reduces our taste bud sensitivity. In fact, our perception of saltiness and sweetness drops by around 30% at high altitude, according to a 2010 study by Lufthansa. If you ate airline food at sea level, you might be surprised by how liberally the chefs have actually spiced it.

But high altitudes' impact on our taste buds is just part of the bland in-flight food story. Another puzzle piece has to do with the fact that "flavor" is, in fact, a combination of both taste and smell.

According to Dr. Tom Finger, professor at the University of Colorado School of medicine, when you put something in your mouth, the vapours pass through the nasopharynx to reach receptors high in the nose.

In addition to reduced taste bud sensitivity, cabin pressure causes mucus membranes to swell, blocking this pathway. Cabin pressure also decreases the volatility of odor molecules, or their ability to vaporize and enter the nose.

Interestingly, a 2011 study published in the journal "Food Quality and Preference" suggests an alternative hypothesis behind the blandness of airplane food: the loud, constant hum of the aircraft engine.

During the experiment, 48 participants listened to either silence or white noise with headphones while snacking on sweet and salty foods. They were asked to rate the intensity of the flavors and several other characteristics.

With background noise, food was rated as less salty and less sweet than in silence. White noise, however, increased the perceived crunchiness. Andy Woods and colleagues at the University of Manchester posit that noise distracts eaters, making it difficult to concentrate on the taste and properties of their food.

What would your theory regarding the tastiness (or lack thereof) of in-flight food be? Tell us in the comment section below or send your thoughts to info@news24travel.com

Read more on:    flights  |  food  |  travel international

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