Science Explains Why Airline Food Sucks

It's not the airplane food but the whirl of those engines ruining your meal.

ByABC News
October 15, 2010, 4:16 PM

Oct. 18, 2010— -- Appetizing has never been a word used to describe airline food. But now a team of scientists has come up with a reason why we hate airline food so much: the noise of the airplane engines.


Yes, according to researchers at the consumer product manufacturer Unilever and the University of Manchester. They say the annoyingly loud background noise from the airplane's engines disturb our senses and make us enjoy our food that much less.

You can't rule out the low cost of the food and environmental factors such as air pressure and the dryness of the air, researcher Andy Woods told ABC News. But even so, noise levels still have an impact on our enjoyment or dislike of food.

"If you can any way reduce the noise, you will make the whole experience better," said Woods, who suggests passengers wear noise-canceling headphones.

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The researchers fed 48 blindfolded participants a variety of foods from biscuits to rice crackers to cheddar cheese. At the same time, headphones either canceled out noise or provided various levels of white noise. The subjects then rated the intensity of the flavors and how much they liked or didn't like them.

The result: the higher the noise level, the less the participants tasted salty or sweet flavors. Their sensitivity to the crunchiness of their food was amplified.

But higher noise levels aren't enough to make people hate their meals.

Marcia Pelchat, a sensory psychologist at the Monell Center who specializes in food acceptance and preferences, said, "there are plenty of very successful restaurants that are very noisy."

"It depends not just on the presence of noise but the context," said Pelchat, who has not reviewed the full Unilever study.

And apparently context was key. Woods said that while noise levels had an effect on the intensity of saltiness and sweetness, higher levels of noise did not necessarily mean a bad meal.