Finally, your drinks and food may start tasting good at high altitudes! Many of the carriers have the bad reputation for serving unpalatable and so-so drinks. Now they are thinking about filling the sensory gap.
Apart from the food, they are other factors as well which are responsible for the bad tasting food like noise, low pressure, dry air, plastic cutlery and cups. They make the food less appetizing than they are. These factors change a great deal when we are at higher altitudes in a plane.
On Wednesday, Cathay Pacific, the Hong Kong carrier has introduced a new type of beer for its passenger which will taste good when had at miles above the ground. It will contain honey and ‘dragon eye’. Dragon eye is a tropical fruit which tastes like lychee.
“We know that when you fly, your sense of taste changes,” Julian Lyden, marketing manager at Cathay Pacific, said in an interview. “Airlines address this for food in certain ways.”
The background noises in a plane supresses the sweet and salty taste of the food, according to Charles Spence, who is a professor of experimental psychology at Oxford University. He is set to publish a book on ‘Gastrophysics’ this month.
Our sensitivity to sweet and salty taste drops by 30% when we are at higher altitudes as compared to when we are at the ground, according to a study commissioned by Lufthansa and conducted by Fraunhofer Institute for Building Physics in Germany.
At high altitudes, only umami — the pleasant, savoury “fifth” taste beloved by Japanese chefs — is boosted for reasons that are not yet known. So, Bloody Marys, which contain the umami-rich tomato and Worcestershire sauce, taste far better at altitudes than on the ground. This is the reason why Bloody Mary is the most consumed cocktail on passenger flights, according to airlines.
Thinking about the causes of Umami tasting so good at height, Mr. Spence hypothesized that the background noises on the plane, even at 80-85 decibels raises an ancestral fear. When faced by the stressful situations, our ancestors must have resorted to Umami which promotes the secretion of saliva. That’s why British Airways decided to have so many umami-rich foods back in 2013.
Apart from the white noise, low humidity and low pressure also affect our gustatory senses, according to Peter Barham of the University of Bristol. He is expert at the science of taste. At higher altitudes like 30,000 feet, the cabin air is drier than even the air in the deserts. This affects our sense of smell and taste.
So, when you have beer in air, it’s because the environment of the aircraft affects our brain to interpret the signals, Barham said. This changes the taste of your beer!
Some airlines have experimented with ‘Sonic Seasoning’. It’s like playing music while eating, or using the cutlery that creates sound. This can bring about sweetness in your food.
Some of the wines taste better than others, especially from the countries like Chile, where the grapes are grown and blended at higher mountainous altitudes.
Champagne should be best avoided when you’re flying. Some experts say, even if the airlines company offer the best variety of champagne like Dom Pérignon or Krug Grande Cuvée, they are bound to taste sub-standard. In an experiment by the French Champagne producer Taittinger in 2010, it was observed that the aroma of the champagne reduces drastically with altitudes and the bubbles stick to the sides of the glasses instead of giving a steady stream of finer bubbles.
Mikkel Borg Bjergso was the first person to brew a beer especially meant for airline. From past 3 years, his company Mikkeller has produced 10 types of beers for the Scandinavian airline, SAS. He will devise 6 new varieties this year in Belgium.
“It’s becoming a trend because there is big competition on customer experience,” Mr. Bjergso said, adding that he has been approached by another airline. “SAS is spending a lot of energy on food and beverage,” he said, including special apple juice produced on a small farm in Norway.
After testing on 25 types of beer at 30,000 feet, Mr. Bjergso concluded that the dominant flavours like bitterness was absent.
Beer is usually made with oats and wheat, he said, but “we just use malt, pretty much” in his airline beer. “You also add less hops at the beginning of the brewing process, to lower the bitterness.”
Beer also foams at height due to the difference in air pressure. So, the carbon dioxide is taken out and put into the Champagne bottle which can resist air pressure better than the normal bottles.
“Imagine your favourite meal — it tastes great,” Mr. Barham said. “But if it’s served in a plastic container and you’re squashed elbow to elbow between two people, it doesn’t taste so good.”