Far from an enjoyable culinary experience, airplane food is basically meant to prevent you from chewing on other human beings before the airplane can safely land on the ground, where there's real food. But it turns out the lackluster flavor of your chicken and potatoes may have more to do with the loud noise in the plane's cabin than the actual quality of the food, according to new research.
In a study published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance, Cornell University scientists found that loud noises can drastically change the way you think your food tastes. In particular, the study suggests that the loud humming noise in an airplane cabin can actually suppress the intensity of sweet foods and enhance savory foods with umami.
“Our study confirmed that in an environment of loud noise, our sense of taste is compromised," Robin Dando, assistant professor of food science at Cornell, said in a press release. "Interestingly, this was specific to sweet and umami tastes, with sweet taste inhibited and umami taste significantly enhanced. The multisensory properties of the environment where we consume our food can alter our perception of the foods we eat.”
As TIME reported, the researchers asked 48 men and women to sample liquids with five different flavor profiles -- sweet, sour, salty, bitter, and umami -- in a room with your everyday ambient noise, or in a room with loud, simulated airplane cabin noise. While they perceived sweetness as less sweet and umami as more pronounced in the loud room, the participants didn't indicate any major differences in the flavor of the sour, bitter, and salty samples.
So, if you're ever wondered why so many people order tomato juice or Bloody Marys on planes, here's your answer. Plus, those things are just delicious at any altitude.
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Tony Merevick is Cities News Editor at Thrillist and can totally see how this a thing. Send news tips to firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @tonymerevick.