The combination of dryness and low pressure reduces the sensitivity of your taste buds to sweet and salty foods. Picture: Unspalsh / ismail mohamed - SoviLe
The combination of dryness and low pressure reduces the sensitivity of your taste buds to sweet and salty foods. Picture: Unspalsh / ismail mohamed - SoviLe

Food science: This is why food tastes bland on flights

By Viwe Ndongeni-Ntlebi Time of article published Jun 4, 2021

Share this article:

Aeroplane food is fundamentally different from the food you eat on the ground.

The inflight culinary experts who work on the ground specifically select food and drink based on the scientific changes your body undergoes during a flight and the way altitude and pressure affects certain ingredients.

Have you ever wondered why food tastes bland on flights? Chef and television presenter Sibahle Mtongana, also known as Siba, answers that question.

“It's because food loses about 30% of its flavour when tasted in the sky. This is caused by lower air pressure, background noise and the lack of humidity in the air, which decreases our ability to use our orthonasal and retronasal olfaction to taste flavour, which helps us perceive flavour and aroma. This explains why food tastes so bland while on a plane,” she said on an Instagram post.

The combination of dryness and low pressure reduces the sensitivity of your taste buds to sweet and salty foods by around 30%, according to a 2010 study conducted by Germany's Fraunhofer Institute for Building Physics, commissioned by German airline Lufthansa.

Siba also shares her own experience on preparing inflight culinary: “I've had the first-hand experience of this a couple of years ago when I had the opportunity and privilege to develop a business and premium class menu for a national airline for all its international trips.

“All the food science I learnt from university came to play in real life as I had to create the menu with the science of 30000ft above sea level in mind, working very closely with a company that supplied cabin food for most airlines. It was probably one of the most fascinating experiences of my career and [I] gained so much knowledge in the process of partnering with them. I couldn't just take a recipe I created for home or even for a restaurant as it is, it had to be adapted significantly because of what happens to our taste buds in the sky and other factors of course that have to do with aviation and long hours of flying,” shared Siba.

Currently, eating on planes is prohibited on most flights because of Covid-19 protocols. But, Siba hopes that next time you fly, when things are back to normality, you will remember this interesting fact.

“Food science is a fascination! Hope you discovered something interesting today with food,” said Siba.

Share this article: