There is finally a scientific reason for the awful taste of airplane food, apart from the fact that it is cooked over a half-hour before you board the plane and reheated in mid-air. According to a number of research papers, the compression, altitude, air, ambience and noise of air-travel actively affects the way we perceive taste.
What happens to our bodies as we travel into the stratosphere? Firstly, cabin pressurised air is sapped of all its humidity. This dry air wooshing up our nostrils dries out the mucus and causes us to lose a large amount of our olfactory sense. 80% of what we perceive as taste is actually smell, that beautiful fragrance of a coq au vin ads just as much to your perception of its taste as the actual food itself.
The other side of the coin is that the actual environment itself affects our perception of taste. When flying in the blaring 85 decibel cabin we apparently lose 30% of our ability to taste both salty and sweet foods according to a Lufthansa-instructed research study. So the seemingly well-seasoned Turkish Airlines meatball in the air would actually taste like a vile ball of salt on the ground.
Considering the dehydrating effect of flying, because of the aforementioned dehumidified compressed air, we start craving salty and sweet foods. Salty foods especially start dehydrating us more and sweet foods contribute to highs and lows, and a general imbalance of everything from our rate of activity to our circadian rhythm. Combine this with caffeine or alcohol and the reasons for that awful after-flight feeling become all too apparent.
This brings us to the point of this article: what foods should you eat while at 35,000 feet?
There are two sides to this question, one is which foods are most conducive to having a good flying experience – those that don’t cause discomfort, or problems on landing. Salt and sugar fit into the opposite of this category. The other perspective is which foods are most tasty while soaring through the skies on your London to San Francisco transcontinental flight.
One of the key tastes, Umami, the taste most commonly associated with glutamate, is more prevalent when flying. A Japanese food study found it to be the most perfectly suited for those with both their sense of smell and taste impaired. Hence, to enjoy your food while flying focus on finding healthy foods that are high in glutamate but low in salt and sugar. For example Lufthansa’s incredible menu lifted from Condé Nast Traveler (which you can read here:
“Firecracker shrimp with tomato salpicon and green gazpacho vinaigrette (the shrimp is marinated in chilies, cumin, and garlic to give the dish the kick needed for the airplane’s unforgiving climes), beef tenderloin with ginger enoki mushrooms and shiso leaves, and potato-encrusted salmon paired with a cabernet cream sauce and micro greens.”
Here is a list of what to eat and what to avoid while flying:
What to Eat
Fruits, yogurt, lean proteins such as chicken, fish, wholemeal bread, eggs, vegetables, salads and stay hydrated
What to Avoid
Caffeine, salt, salty snacks, processed food, sugary items, white bread, to avoid gastrointestinal discomfort avoid fizzy drinks, onion, garlic, potato, broccoli, dairy products and beans before your flight. You should also avoid alcoholic drinks before or during your flight.
So what would it be… chicken or pasta?