The next time you take a flight, plan to drink some tomato juice as researchers have found that in noisy situations our taste buds prefer savory tomatoes over sweets. “The multisensory properties of the environment where we consume our food can alter our perception of the foods we eat,” said Robin Dando, assistant professor of food science at Cornell University.
In noisy situations — like the 85 decibels aboard a jetliner — “umami”-rich foods become your taste bud’s best buds, the researchers noted. A Japanese scientific term, umami describes the sweet, savory taste of amino acids such as glutamate in foods like tomato juice. “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,” Dando said.
The study may guide reconfiguration of airline food menus to make airline food taste better. Airlines acknowledge the phenomenon. German airline Lufthansa had noticed that passengers were consuming as much tomato juice as beer. The airline commissioned a private study released last autumn that showed cabin pressure enhanced tomato juice taste. Taste perception depends not only on the integration of several sensory inputs associated with the food or drink itself but also on the sensory attributes of the environment in which the food is consumed, the scientists said. “The multisensory nature of what we consider ‘flavor’ is undoubtedly underpinned by complex central and peripheral interactions,” Dando said.