Skip to main content

Science reveals best in-flight beverage

By James Durston, CNN
updated 5:07 AM EDT, Mon April 28, 2014
Umami-rich foods fare best in flight. Another tomato juice, sir?
Umami-rich foods fare best in flight. Another tomato juice, sir?
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Aircraft engine noises have been shown to impair taste reception by up to 30%
  • However umami, the so-called "fifth taste," may be immune to this effect
  • Umami-rich foods such as tomatoes, Parmesan cheese, mushrooms, good options for fliers

(CNN) -- If you often order a bloody Mary or tomato juice on a plane, yet rarely order them elsewhere, science may have just explained your bizarre in-flight urge.

A bloody Mary could be one of the few drinks that actually tastes as it's supposed to in the air, according to the authors of a paper in the online journal Flavour, entitled "Airplane noise and the taste of umami."

Previous studies have shown that loud noises, such as an aircraft engine, can reduce our ability to taste flavors by up to 30%.

"Umami, however, is immune to this effect," authors Charles Spence, Charles Michel and Barry Smith write.

"There is even some evidence to suggest that it ... may actually boost some of the other basic tastes."

Umami has been called "the fifth taste," after salty, bitter, sweet and sour, and has been likened to a "savory" flavor.

Umami effect

Spence et al suggest this might explain the popularity of tomato-based drinks on flights.

"A key feature of tomatoes is that they are rich in umami ... perhaps all those travelers who order a bloody Mary after the seatbelt sign has been turned off have figured out intuitively what scientists are only now slowly coming to recognize empirically."

They also say this could help chefs and diners plan their meals.

"One might also want to recommend an umami-rich menu -- that is, foods such as Parmesan cheese, tomatoes, and mushrooms -- to all those vocal restaurant critics out there, especially it seems in North America, who have been complaining that the background noise in many restaurants is simply too loud nowadays."

But don't forsake water for bloody Mary marathons just yet. The authors say more work is required to confirm their hypothesis.

MORE: Skip the pasta! And other unsavory truths about airplane food

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 8:18 PM EST, Sun November 23, 2014
The interior of the Formosa Boulevard Mass Rapid Transit Station in Kaohsiung, in southern Taiwan.
These quirky and beautiful subway stops make standing cheek-to-cheek with 45 strangers almost seem fun.
updated 8:14 AM EST, Fri November 21, 2014
A scene from a desert safari in Dubai
Luxury vintage Land Rover tours explore Bedouin backwaters without bashing up precious dunes.
updated 9:50 PM EST, Wed November 19, 2014
Cities around the world have closed the brew gap, but the Oregon city's innovative scene continues to lead the beer parade.
updated 5:49 PM EST, Wed November 19, 2014
From gourmet hotdogs to Sevillian tapas, the food served in these London restaurants is worth lining up for.
updated 10:45 AM EST, Thu November 20, 2014
Plans are underway to build the world's tallest -- and quite possibly most terrifying -- roller coaster at an Orlando, Florida, theme park due to open in 2017.
updated 2:32 PM EST, Tue November 18, 2014
The 7th Annual Cruise Critic Editors' Picks Awards highlight the top cruise lines for North American travelers in 18 categories.
updated 9:06 PM EST, Tue November 18, 2014
Joining the ranks of pilgrims tackling Adam's Peak rewards with a spiritual awakening, or at least a stunning sunrise.
updated 8:13 AM EST, Tue November 18, 2014
The cover of Norway's new passport design
Beautifully designed travel document reveals image of Northern Lights when placed under UV light.
updated 12:25 AM EST, Tue November 18, 2014
Properties in the Italian village of Santo Stefano di Sessanio have been converted into a high end hotel spread through the village.
New concept offering luxury rooms in ancient dwellings helps spare beautiful villages from falling into ruin.
updated 5:47 PM EST, Fri November 21, 2014
Are you the butcher or the cattle? Tainted meat-obsessed fans are following the tracks of their favorite "Walking Dead" survivors.
updated 12:21 AM EST, Mon November 17, 2014
People never cease to find amazing ways to make water more incredible than it already is. Here are some powerful examples
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT