Airplane food is notorious for tasting like crap, but scientists say that is due to more than processed, gloppy ingredients. According to a new study by researchers at Cornell University, certain items aren't all that palatable 36,000 feet in the air all because of loud airplane noise. Robin Dando, an assistant professor of food science at the university, notes, "[The] study confirmed that in an environment of loud noise, our sense of taste is compromised."
However, it's mainly sweet tastes that are "inhibited." Umami-rich items — such as tomato juice, which is loaded with glutamates — are actually enhanced by loud airplane noise, and the taste is "significantly enhanced." Dando explains, "The multisensory properties of the environment where we consume our food can alter our perception of the foods we eat."
Airplane meals may improve in the future thanks to the research. Dando and his team hope that airlines use the study to help reconfigure airplane food menus so that meals taste better. The information isn't shocking to airline companies. Lufthansa says that it has noticed "passengers were consuming as much tomato juice as beer." So, the company commissioned a private study that showed cabin pressure enhanced the taste of dishes like tomato juice and tomato sauce.
Hopefully this means more umami-rich airplane meals will appear in the near future. Combined with 3D printing technology, which could allow airplanes to "print" fresher meals, and chef input, airplane meals may not suck so much one day.