It doesn’t matter if you’re flying economy or business class – every plane passenger knows better than to expect a tasty meal at 37,000 feet above the air. Whether you’ve gone with the pricey steak and mashed potatoes, or the more affordable fish fillet. Seems like whatever they serve you on a plane will always fall short of gastronomic expectations.
But why? Do airline companies deliberately serve unsatisfying meals? Or do airline cooks follow completely different standards and practices?
It’s definitely a head-scratcher. But before you go out and blame your next dreary airline meal on the chef, it might help to know that there are more factors involved.
The Thing About Taste Buds
Taste buds are those little nubby things that line the surface of your tongue. As their name suggests, their purpose is to detect flavors so you can enjoy good food and avoid chowing down on potentially dangerous substances. There are a few things that can impact the function of taste buds, and these include the rise and fall of certain hormones, illness, and even your sense of smell.
But that’s not all that can change the way you taste the food. Studies have found that certain factors involving altitude, humidity, and pressure can significantly (and negatively) alter the way your tongue tastes things.
The Problem with Sky-High Dining
Flying on a plane exposes your body to a lot of changes. If you ever took the time to listen to that little recording they play before you take-off, they tell you that the cabin is pressurized. And because you’re inside the cabin, you can expect that your body is under unique pressure as well.
In effect, change in pressure can cause some of your senses to go – this includes your sense of smell and your sense of taste. In fact, studies have found that during a flight, people are less capable of tasting sweetness and saltiness. This has mainly been attributed to the change in pressure combined with an increase of altitude and also altered humidity in the cabin.
And as if all of that hasn’t been reason enough for odd airplane food taste, it’s also worth mentioning that the way their food is prepared can also have an impact on flavor. Airline food is actually cooked several hours before your flight, then it’s frozen to take on-board, and reheated when it’s time to chow.
Altitude, Humidity, and Pressure
What’s so wrong about that? Even left-overs taste pretty great after heating them up. While that might be true, you really can’t deny that there’s a subtle flavor difference between a hot, freshly-cooked meal and reheated leftovers. Plus, when you factor in the impaired sense of taste due to altitude, humidity, and pressure, it’s easy to see why even the slightest change to the flavor of food can be a pretty big deal when you’re up in the air.
So, there you have it. Now, before you go spending extra on that premium airline meal in the hope of actually enjoying what you’re going to eat, take a moment to consider the effects of flying on your sense of taste. You’re probably not going to enjoy whatever they serve up in-flight, but at least now you know better than to blame the cook.