Airline food isn't actually that bad. Really. Well if we ate it at sea level it wouldn't be. It turns out at altitudes over 10,000 feet, our tastebuds freak out.
Basically, human taste buds act differently in the air than on the ground. Taste and flavor are totally reliant on humidity and our sense of smell. Airplanes' pressurized cabins have about 4% humidity. This totally dries up our noses, impeding our ability to taste and smell. Basically, foods taste like you have a cold when you're high in the sky.
“It has to do with the altitude – the lack of oxygen or the depressed oxygen levels, the shortage that makes people not able to taste the food,” says Marion Nestle, a professor of nutrition
, food studies and public health at New York University. “So some of it is drying of the air and some of it is differences in taste perception.”
"A plane’s artificial atmosphere is equivalent to being in Santa Fe, New Mexico, at 7,000 feet above sea level. The altitude, combined with low humidity, puts the taste buds on the fritz." Scientists estimate that smell and taste decrease about 20-30% on planes.
Have you ever had an apple when you had a cold? It can taste like a potato. On a plane tomato juice is one of the most preferred drinks. Why? The crazy acidic flavor at sea level is mellowed out by our lack of taste. While we lose our ability to taste some foods, there are others that can resist this altitude effect:
- this is why in the 80s and 90s airplane food was a sodium bomb. Salt doesn't get affected by altitude. It actually helps retain other flavor. But with the surge of low-sodium diets, we recently lost the salt and consequently airline food started tasting really really really bad. It's also why part of the reason they stopped with the peanuts (that and peanut allergies).
2. Indian Spices
- Ever wonder why there was always an indian food option? Well, the strong spices like cinnamon, curry and cardamom act similarly to salt and are unaffected by altitude.
3. Ice Cream
- surprise! How awesome is that? The biggest problem with ice cream is travel and transport. So fingers crossed.
4. Tomato Juice -
Passengers drink 1.7 liters of tomato juice per year. The extra acidity and saltiness that would normally seem like overkill tastes good to partially numbed taste buds. “Tomato juice was rated far worse under normal pressure than under low pressure. It was described as earthy and musty,” Lufthansa researcher Andrea Burdack-Freitag explained in a June 2011 statement. But once in the air, it got rave reviews: “pleasant fruity smells and sweet, cooling taste impressions came to the fore.”
5. Big Fruity Wine
s - Similarly to tomato juice, fruity wines that would be sensed as overbearing to our tastebuds do great on a plane.
So what does this mean for you? If you don't want to eat the inflight food, or are the type of person who remembers to pack snacks, here are our picks to bring aboard:
Vega Snack Bar
and Clif Mojo Bar:
These bars are salty and sweet. This combination will help retain the flavor when you're miles high. Also, the bars are relatively low in sugar, so you can avoid being wired when that safety belt light comes on.
AllGood Provisions Salted Almonds
, Skout Trailpak Pumpkin Seeds, and Eden Organic Snack Mix:
Salt will keep these tasting good (remember how good salted peanuts were on the plane).
Pro Bar Base, Kill Clif Bar, Vega One
: The Vega ONE bar is a lighter bar with a nice amount of protein and loaded with nutrients. It helps ensure that you're still getting quality nutrition even on the go. The Kill Cliff and Pro Bar Base bars are heavier, pack more sodium, and probably are better suited to keeping you satiated for longer flights.
Epic Bar or Wild Zora Beef & Veggie Bars
: When you peel open a meat-based bar you can smell them. It's intense. This is great for a plane, where the intensity will be reduced, but the sodium will help retain the awesome flavor.
, and Nuun Hydration Tablets
: Combat the dry air by upping your electrolytes intake while aboard. Remember you get dehydrated in high altitude. If you drink an electrolyte enhanced beverage while up in the air, you will feel less bloated, and fatigued when you land. These hydration options have low or no calories. When you're sitting for hours you don't need the calories, but you do need the hydration.
: If you want to experience bliss on your flight, have this. Low humidity has no power over these honey covered salty nuts
Need some in-air snacks? Get our Travel Snacks for the Sky, now