The Real Reason Airplane Food Tastes So Bad

Airplane food isn’t known for its quality. But it turns out that bad taste in your mouth may be YOUR fault. Or, rather, a fault of the plane itself.

Recent research has found that loud noise — specifically the noise in an airplane cabin — can significantly alter our perceptions of taste, making sweet foods less potent and umami flavors more robust.

For the study, which was published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance in March, 48 participants sampled tastes in both a quiet room and one made to sound like an airplane cabin. Researchers concluded the “plane cabin” inhibited people’s ability to taste sweet flavors while enhancing umami, the savory flavor in foods like bacon, soy sauce and Parmesan cheese. Sound changed participants’ perceptions of these tastes by about 10 to 15 percent, study co-author Robin Dando, an assistant professor in Cornell University’s department of food science, told HuffPost. The effect is likely due to sensory interactions between the noise and a nerve in your ear.

Tomato juice is rich in umami flavor, a likely reason it tastes so different (most people say better) on a plane. In fact, in 2008, staff at Lufthansa noticed passengers were drinking as much tomato juice as beer on flights, a shocking discovery for a German airline since, as a Lufthansa catering executive pointed out, Germans really love beer.

There are other factors than noise that also affect taste at 30,000 feet. Dry cabin air can evaporate nasal mucus, and pressurization may cause membranes to swell, both of which effectively numb your taste buds on a flight. In 2010 a study commissioned by —> Read More