Is Airplane Engine Noise Why In-Flight Meals Suck?

Travel News — By Carlo Alcos on October 21, 2010 at 11:30 am

Your airplane meal doesn’t suck, it’s just that you can’t taste it. At least, that’s what this article at the Daily Mail claims. Researchers from global food corporation Unilever say they’ve discovered that loud ambient noise (like the drone of an airplane engine) can have adverse effects on how we taste food. Volunteers were blindfolded and given headphones over which white noise was either canceled or played at various levels. The volunteers were then asked to rate the intensity of the flavors and if they liked the food or not.

What they found is that the participants, when played loud ambient noise, had less sensitivity to sweet and salty flavors. They also found that the volunteers had a heightened sense of crunchiness with the white noise. Whether or not this is why peanuts are always served wasn’t clear.

In this ABC News article, Marcia Pelchat — a sensory psychologist at the Monell Center who specializes in food acceptance and preferences — wasn’t fully on board with this survey. She had this to say:

There are plenty of very successful restaurants that are very noisy. It depends not just on the presence of noise but the context.

In fact, the article says that people tend to enjoy the food more if they are listening to a noise they like, even if it is loud.

But even still, researcher Andy Woods recommends putting on a pair of noise-canceling headphones next time you’re about to dig into an airline meal. Makes you almost feel sorry for those first-class travelers if they can’t taste their prime rib dinner properly. Well, maybe not.

[Image: nosha / Flickr]

Tags: airline, food, research, survey

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