A Bloody Mary may be a great way to take the edge off during a long flight, but according to science that savory-spicy concoction actually tastes better at 30,000 feet.
According to a new study conducted by Cornell University, sweetness is suppressed “in noisy situations—like the 85 decibels aboard a jetliner” while the taste of umami-rich foods like tomato juice was “significantly enhanced.”
Umami, often known as the fifth taste, is a Japanese term that is used to define the rich, savory flavor of foods like mushrooms, miso, aged cheese and tomato. Scientists link it back to the way our taste receptors receive amino acids like glutamate.
“Our study confirmed that in an environment of loud noise, our sense of taste is compromised. Interestingly, this was specific to sweet and umami tastes, with sweet taste inhibited and umami taste significantly enhanced,” wrote Robin Dando, assistant professor of food science at Cornell.
“The multisensory properties of the environment where we consume our food can alter our perception of the foods we eat.”
Last fall, Lufthansa commissioned a private study that found cabin pressure enhances the taste of tomato juice, and after looking at its sales figures say that passengers consume as much tomato juice as beer.
While we don’t expect to see any extreme Bloody Mary bars coming to airlines any time soon, the Cornell researchers believe their findings “may guide reconfiguration of airline food menus to match these loud environments—in other words, make airline food taste better.”