We at Indian Eagle are back to decode the science behind why fliers crave tomato juice at 35,000 feet above the ground, after revealing the mystery behind omnipresence of sweet tamarind candies in meals served on Jet Airways flights across the world.
The simplest and most common reason is that tomato juice tastes better on a plane than on the ground. Undeniably, food tastes different in the sky than in a non-flight environment. Mostly, the taste of sweet and salty foods changes completely during air travel, according to an Indian Eagle-led survey conducted among travelers on some US to India flights.
More gallons of tomato juice are served than beer in air travel cabins, according to Lufthansa Airlines which serves nearly 53,000 gallons of tomato juice on its flights the world over. What makes food taste change or fliers drink tomato juice on planes is nothing but a science.
Several external factors (outside our body) including low cabin pressure, low cabin humidity and high-decibel noise conspire together to make our olfactory (smell) and gustatory (taste) senses dull. The less sensitive odor and taste receptor in the human brain find it difficult to detect sweet and salty flavors of airplane food.
According to scientists, low pressure and low humidity decrease the influx of oxygen in our blood, thereby weakening our sense of taste which sends sweet and salty signals to the brain. Besides, changes in air pressure during flight cause mucus in our nasal cavities to expand, which makes it difficult for our taste buds to percept sweet and salty flavors of inflight meals.
Most airlines keep cabin humidity at 10 to 15 percent while flying at high altitudes. Low cabin humidity dehydrates the mouth and the nose to make sweets feel less sweet and salty food less salty on our taste buds. Why curries appeal to our sense of taste at 35,000 feet from above the ground, is a different story. In general, most inflight meals taste a bit dull.
If low pressure, low humidity and high-decibel noise make airplane food taste bland, why tomato juice tastes much better on planes? It is one of the interesting airline food facts.
According to scientists, tomatoes are rich in umami, a unique taste element which is intensified in a noisy environment and which is unaffected by low pressure at high altitudes. This savory flavor is felt intensely in tomato juice served on planes rather than on the ground. Besides, the sweet and salty flavors of tomato juice are enhanced with more spices than usual for consumption on airplanes. Other flavors like cardamom and lemon grass feel stronger on our taste buds during air travel.
For the same reason, airlines used to serve honey-roasted peanuts on planes during long-haul flights a few decades ago. It gave travelers extra sweet and salty flavors for a balanced taste. Tomato juice, a sweet and salty beverage, is a current version of the yesteryear’s honey-roasted peanuts.