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Why does food taste different when you fly?

Have you ever noticed that food seems to taste a little different in the air? You’re not going crazy – the combination of cabin pressure and altitude makes it more difficult for taste buds to pick up certain sweet or salty flavours. Cabin air also affects your ability to smell, and as your nose plays a starring role in the taste process, this all points to a tough time for those old taste buds. Even the noise from the engines can have an impact on your tongue!

Saliva is also a crucial indicator of taste, and the dryness inside the cabin as it ascends can cause mouths to become dry. Food broken down by saliva is easier to taste, and as you chew, the saliva breaks down the flavours as they come into contact with your taste buds. The way your body reacts to the pressure and altitude can almost be likened to a dulling of the senses when you have a cold, and it takes some clever food development in the kitchen to counteract this.


Thankfully, our sky chefs are well clued up to the changes that happen to us at 37,000ft, and have perfected recipes that play to the ‘fifth’ flavour – umami. This is a savoury, rich flavour which is unaffected by altitude, along with sour, bitter and spicy flavours. Umami is a Japanese-coined word, commonly referred to as a savoury, delicious and more-ish taste that derives from glutamate.

There are lots of foods naturally high in glutamate, or umami, and this forms the basis of many of our inflight meals. Our onboard range of hot meals, created by celebrity chef James Martin, are formed around key ingredients which are rich in the flavour and which enhance the taste experience at altitude.

A vegetarian Chestnut Mushroom Broccoli Lasagne is full of rich, umami flavours coming from tomatoes, mushrooms and truffle, while our Chicken Prosciutto dish plays to the umami flavour found in cured pork products, with chicken wrapped in Italian prosciutto ham. Our Beef Rendang meal also utilises the many spices which hold their flavour in the air, with seasoning such as lemon grass actually tasting more intense at altitude. Soy sauce, beef, cheese, corn and potatoes are also part of the umami family and feature in our inflight meals.

However, it’s not just food that is affected. Lots of people find themselves with a hankering for a Britvic Tomato Juice in the air due to its rich umami content, making it taste salty. And our Britvic Ginger Ale, with its herbal taste and bitter qualities, also tastes great on your travels.

If you’re flying with us and would love to experience the delicious flavours in our James Martin meals and educate your fellow travellers, simply book your meal before you board and enjoy!


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