According to a new study by Cornell University, there’s a scientific reason why we all crave Bloody Marys while flying. Researchers discovered that “in noisy situations—like the 85 decibels aboard a jetliner—umami-rich foods become your taste bud’s best buds.” Tomato juice is very umami-rich, as are foods like parmesan, soy sauce, and meat. Meanwhile, airplane cabins are just a little less noisy than rock concerts and fireworks.cabn

Robin Dando, assistant professor of food science at Cornell, elaborates on how auditory conditions on airplanes enhance umami:

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. The multisensory properties of the environment where we consume our food can alter our perception of the foods we eat.

A few years ago, German airline Lufthansa realized they served approximately as much tomato juice as beer. Lufthansa catering exec Ernst Derenthal explained why this finding was so significant: “I mean, Germans are known as a beer drinking nation, and that’s one of our favorite things and we are proud about it.” Lufthansa hired a group of researchers to find out why people drank so much tomato juice. They discovered that cabin pressure enhanced the taste of tomato juice, but they failed to realize that loud noise also enhances umami flavors.

The Cornell Chronicle explains that the new finding “may guide reconfiguration of airline food menus to match these loud environments—in other words, make airline food taste better.” If they’re smart, airlines will cut down on the sweet and rev up the umami-rich ingredients in plane food. We’d love to order a side of parmesan fries with ketchup on our next flight.

[via The Cornell Chronicle, LA Times]

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