Turns out there’s scientific proof you crave a Bloody Mary when you fly.
According to Cornell University researchers, the high noise levels of a flight lead to our brain more intensely tasting umami, or savory, flavors.
“We didn’t test whether it tastes better, just whether it tastes intense. So it tastes more intense absolutely,” study author and Cornell University assistant professor of food science Robin Dando told ABC News. “All meats, cheeses, soups, soy sauce.”
Anything high in umami, basically, which explains why people want to order Bloody Mary’s on a flight. Tomato juice, olives and the drink’s other ingredients’ tastes are all enhanced when on an airplane. What’s interesting is that it’s not the pressure or altitude that affects our taste buds: It’s the high noise level.
A typical jetliner is 85 decibels, much higher than the average room. The reason behind how this affects our sense of flavor is a bit convoluted, but it boils down to our ear drums actually being connected to our taste buds.
“Basically the nerve that takes two-thirds of information from the tongue, when it goes into the brain it actually happens to go right across the ear drum. So it actually makes physical contact as it crosses the ear drum,” study author and Cornell University assistant professor of food science Robin Dando told ABC News. “We postulated that perhaps these loud noises are stimulating this nerve in some way, making it either activate or become hyperactive depending on the taste.”
Conversely, our ability to taste sweetness is diminished when flying high.
“You would have to actually oversweeten something to give it the equivalent taste. So if things are tasting less sweet, then if you want them to taste the same without these loud noises, it would make sense to add more sugar. Of course that inherently implies you’re adding more calories – which is never a great thing – so it might be better to go with something not quite so dominated by the sweetness,” Dando explained. “This might be happening on a subconscious level that people don’t realize that things are tasting differently. They might just think, ‘I’m not really feeling this can of soda today.’”
Moral of the story is reach for more savory foods when on a flight – think tomatoes, olives, Parmesan cheese, Portobello mushrooms, meat -– rather than a dessert, since you’ll get more enjoyment out of the heightened flavors instead of wasting calories on sweets you may not taste as well.