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 6:01 AM EDT, Tue August 19, 2014
Photographer gives Hong Kong skyscrapers a radical new look.
updated 8:21 AM EDT, Sat August 16, 2014
A cage-free shark photographer gets up close and personal with the ocean's most feared predators.
updated 10:28 AM EDT, Fri August 15, 2014
Conde Nast Traveler reader survey praises antipodean cities but gives South Africa's biggest city a wide berth.
updated 9:22 PM EDT, Thu August 14, 2014
After the 100th anniversary of the opening of the Canal, here are 10 other ways to fall in love with the country.
updated 11:49 PM EDT, Wed August 13, 2014
In Taiwan, tourists pay to ride along in local cabs, letting fate -- and locals fares -- decide where they'll go.
updated 4:48 PM EDT, Wed August 13, 2014
It's largely devoid of human life, dark, cold and subject to dangerous levels of geological volatility -- the Arctic is surely the worst possible destination for an arts festival.
Zurich, Switzerland
It may be Switzerland's banking capital, but Zurich's real wealth lies in the village-like charm of its cobbled streets and Alpine scenery.
updated 2:54 PM EDT, Wed August 13, 2014
We've all wondered what it's like to die. Now an outfit in Shanghai says it can provide the experience.
updated 9:15 PM EDT, Wed August 13, 2014
Our special report details who, what and how much it takes to bring you the best in IFE (we'll explain).
updated 2:32 AM EDT, Wed August 13, 2014
What pizza is to New York and the cheesesteak is to Philly, the food truck has become to Los Angeles -- essential
updated 5:03 AM EDT, Wed August 20, 2014
If you've ever clicked on a list of forests to see before you die, chances are you've already seen a photo of this stunner.
updated 8:18 PM EDT, Thu August 7, 2014
The military coup in Thailand has led to a massive change in Phuket, weeding out decades of misuse and abuse at one of the world's most popular holiday destinations.
updated 5:56 AM EDT, Thu July 31, 2014
With a mix of Indian, African, French and Chinese influences, Mauritius represents a cultural smorgasbord.
updated 8:44 AM EDT, Fri August 8, 2014
There's nothing like high drama on a beach.
updated 5:57 AM EDT, Mon August 11, 2014
Home to big game, sparkling beaches, and stunning sunsets, Malawi makes for an idyllic travel destination.
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT