Want to like the in-flight meal? Try headphones

By John Stevens for the Daily Mail

Experts say the white noise on planes makes food served by crew taste worse

A good pair of noise-cancelling headphones could make airline food taste better. Photo / 123RF
A good pair of noise-cancelling headphones could make airline food taste better. Photo / 123RF

As most in-flight meals consist of re-heated chicken or pasta with insipid sauces, it might be assumed the dishes are beyond saving.

But it seems that what a passenger hears may be as important to culinary enjoyment as what is on the end of their fork.

For the white noise on planes makes the food served up by cabin crew taste worse, according to experts.

Professor Barry Smith, founder of the Centre for the Study of the Senses, carried out an experiment on British Airways return flights to Istanbul - both with and without noise- cancelling headphones.

The University of London academic found that without the constant noise of the plane's engines, he was able to enjoy the food on offer, suggesting that flavour is not just about the tongue, but rather a combination of taste and smell.

The constant drone and vibrations that bombard the eardrums on a plane were found to harm the ability of the tongue to distinguish between sweet, sour and salt.

Professor Smith said: "Apart from the dry air and the fact you are at high altitude in a low-pressure environment, white noise in your ear makes the tongue less able to discriminate between sweet and sour by about 15 per cent.

"But it doesn't seem to affect umami - the savoury taste of foods such as strong cheese, shellfish, tomatoes and soy.

"At the same time, droning sounds accentuate bitterness."

BA has taken the phenomenon on board and actively uses foods with umami to ensure customers enjoy their meals.

That said, this pleasure will soon be denied to the airline's short-haul economy customers after it decided to drop free meals.

- Daily Mail

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