Airline Food Tastes Awful And Apparently There's A Scientific Reason Why

Anne Sewell

Anyone that has taken an air flight knows that on the whole, airline food tastes just plain awful. Most people assume is the mass production of the meals and the way it is stored on the plane before serving. According to science, however, it is actually related to the ambient noise experienced by passengers in the plane's cabin.

Readers probably know the feeling of being cramped up in the plane cabin, feeling bored and hungry, waiting as the food trolley makes its interminably slow journey down the aisle towards them. The food finally arrives and gets plonked down onto the folding table before them and on sampling the airline food, they often lose their previously hearty appetite.

Scientists at Cornell University in New York State took it upon themselves to find out why airline food is either tasteless, or tastes pretty horrible, for passengers on airline flights. The findings from their research have now been published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance.

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The researchers reportedly studied the influence of noise during an airline flight on the five basic tastes. 48 participants in the study rated sweet, salty, sour, bitter and umami solutions on a scale from "barely detectable" all the way through to the "strongest imaginable." For clarity, umami is a pleasant savory taste imparted by glutamate, a type of amino acid.

According to the Express Tribune, during the study, the researchers used different noise levels, ranging from normal room noise right up to 85 decibels, and each flavor was tested with three concentration levels.

The noise was delivered in the test environment for 30 minutes prior to the testing, while the participants in the study relaxed, read or studied, and then continued while the testing continued under the actual tasting conditions of the airline food.

According to Kimberly Yan, co-author in the study at Cornell University, "These results suggest that enjoyment of airline food may be rated consistently lower than would be expected because the loud ambient noise dampens perception of pleasurable sweet flavors."

However as reported by the Mirror Online, Yan went on to say that results also suggest that results could be "ameliorated by focusing on the sought-after taste quality of umami, which was not just immune to the effects of loud noise, but enhanced by it."

According to the authors of the study, the link between taste and noise is not really surprising as reportedly nerves connected to the taste buds cross the ear on their way to the brain.

So now you know. However, no mention was made in the study of the effects of flying first class, where often the more luxurious airline food is served, an example of which can be seen below.

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[Photo via Flickr by Gani /CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]