This is the ONE thing that is so uniform across countries, races, religion and every kind of (other categories of) people, SO uniform that this question unites us all – Why does airplane food taste so(ooooo) bad?
What better to do than eat-and-read or eat-and-watch-a-movie or eat-and-sleep in an airplane that you’re stuck in for hours? The food almost feels like they sucked the moisture and taste right out of it – and, if we were to taste disappointment, it would taste exactly like it.
Who should we blame? Turns out, our taste buds are the real culprits.
“At 35,000 feet, the first thing that goes is your sense of taste. The quality of the food and its ingredients isn’t to blame, it’s the way you experience it.” explained Grant Mickels, the executive chef for the culinary development of Lufthansa’s LSG Sky Chefs.
Now we know a Lufthansa chef giving a reason that blames our taste buds (of ALL things) multiplies our doubts and is REALLY suspicious. Lame blame, right?
But relax your trust issues, looks like it has been tested and proven. (Sorry, Lufthansa guy)
The dish that tastes sumptuous in a fine-dining restaurant is bound to taste dull (or like disappointment, as already discussed) up in the air.
It’s even been tested: The Fraunhofer Institute, a research organization based in Germany, did a study on why a dish that would be delicious in a fine dining restaurant could be “so dull in the air.”
Researchers tried tasting ingredients at sea levels and in pressurized conditions and the differences in taste was astonishing!
In a mock aircraft cabin, researchers tried out ingredients at both sea level and in a pressurized condition and the tests revealed that the cabin atmosphere pressurized at 8,000 feet “makes your taste buds go numb, almost as if you had a cold.”
Our perception of saltiness and sweetness also drops by around 30 percent at high altitude.
Interestingly, the study found that we take leave of only our sweet and salty senses. Sour, bitter and spicy flavours are almost unaffected.
It also doesn’t help that the decreased humidity in the cabin dries out your nose and dulls the olfactory (odour) sensors essential for tasting the flavor of an ingredient or dish.
At about 30,000 feet, humidity is less than 12%, which is drier than most deserts. It takes a toll on our sense of smell, and since for up to 80% of what people think is taste, is in fact smell, it contributes to the dull tasting food all the more.
Another contributing factor to the food that tastes like disappointment (sorry, can’t get over it) may be the noise of the aircraft.
In a study published this past June in the Journal of Experimental Psychology, researchers found “that individuals subjected to the simulated noise of an aircraft cabin had a tougher time recognizing ‘sweet’ flavors than individuals trying the same flavors in otherwise normal conditions”.
Even if the food tastes the exact opposite of delicious, and even if your taste buds are mostly at fault, the journey of the food from the catering kitchen to the plane also needs attention.
According to Harold McGee, a scientist and the author of On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen, “after the food is prepared, it’s chilled and stored until it’s time to load it onto a truck and, finally, onto the plane where it’s served to passengers, which could be hours later.”
“When food gets warmed up to room temperature or above, it starts to deteriorate, and once it crosses a threshold – 160 degrees for meat, 140 degrees for fish – it is going to be dry and tough, no matter what you do.”