The One Cocktail Science Says Tastes Better on a Flight

Cheers to in-flight umami.

After making your way to the airport, past check-in, through security, to your gate, onto the plane, hauling your bag up to the overhead bin, and finally taking your seat, it's time for your reward — a nice, tasty cocktail. If you're not sure what to order, may we suggest a Bloody Mary? According to science, they taste even better at 30,000 feet.

According to a 2016 study by a group of Cornell researchers published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance, tomato juice, AKA the main ingredient in a Bloody Mary, tastes better in the air due to the noise level on an airplane, which influences a human's perception of taste.

To come to its conclusion, the team had 48 participants sample an array of tomato juices with different flavor profiles, including sweet, salty, and bitter options. While tasting the juices, the team increased the noise levels and asked participants to rate the intensity of each flavor throughout the process. The team found the noisier the environment, the harder it was for participants to detect sweetness. However, savory flavors (known as "umami") were still easy for participants to pick up.

Person holds tomato juice or Bloody Mary on airplane
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"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," Robin Dando, assistant professor of food science at Cornell, wrote about the study's findings. "The multi-sensory properties of the environment where we consume our food can alter our perception of the foods we eat."

Cornell scientists aren't the only ones to confirm this tasty finding. Lufthansa also commissioned a study conducted by Germany's Fraunhofer Institute for Building Physics, which found the combination of dryness and low pressure also reduces the sensitivity of taste buds for both sweet and salty by 30%. This once again points to the fact that umami-rich foods are indeed the best tasting in the air.

"The multisensory nature of what we consider 'flavor' is undoubtedly underpinned by complex central and peripheral interactions," Dando added. "Our results characterize a novel sensory interaction, with intriguing implications for the effect of the environment in which we consume food."

Didn't quite get that? It's OK. The most important takeaway is to order yourself a Bloody Mary, or a tomato juice, and make the trip taste a little better.

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