I succumbed to the tomato juice trend the other week on a flight to Munich and was dumbfounded to find myself ordering a second glass. What I’d been missing! I spotted the drink on a menu a couple days later while out for lunch, and ordered it to the table. Big mistake: to my surprise, the tomato juice tasted completely different! On my way home, I began to wonder what this was all about.
Maybe you too have wondered about the changes that happen when your taste buds are switched onto airplane mode. After some research, I discovered it has a lot to do with the pressure differences in the cabin, and how these affect our perception of certain aromas on board. I also learned that certain taste elements of food are compromised in the low pressure environment on planes, meaning that certain herbs and spices are not tasted fully. This is partially because our smell and taste receptors are affected by the lower levels of oxygen in our blood when on a plane, altering the perceived aroma of the foods we eat on board.
After looking into it more, I found that the intensity of certain flavors is reduced, while other aromas remain largely unaffected by the changes that happen 10 000 meters above the ground. Foods that are sour or bitter – like soy sauce, for example – are not perceived very differently whether on your kitchen table or the tray table in front of you. The amounts of other spices and herbs must frequently be increased, however, to achieve the same taste on and off the ground. This means airline caterers like LSG Sky Chefs must adapt to ensure the same great taste for their meals on board.
Not only must individual meal components such as sauces and dressings be adjusted, but how these individual elements are brought together – and in what proportions – must also be adapted to create the best taste possible. This means the culinary team at LSG Sky Chefs experiments extensively with taste combinations and must consider how they will translate to the on board environment when developing their meals. This seems especially tricky when you take into consideration how many different people are served, and how a lot of taste differences must be satisfied with the same recipe.
Airline caterers really have it down to a science. While I don’t really understand how they do it, I will sneak my seat neighbor’s mango dessert on my tray any day in appreciation of the culinary expertise that went into its creation.