Noise Makes Food Taste Differently?

By | Category: Travel rumblings

Jason Palmer of the BBC broke a story this week from the journal, Food Quality and Preference, about research done by 9 academics which has been available since July. We all missed it, probably due to the fact that this magazine isn’t usual bed time reading. The research claims that background noise affects the taste of some foods. Could it be then, that the engine noise that we all experience when flying affects us so that we think that the food we eat tastes differently?
No. My research shows otherwise.
Our ability to taste things might be altered by noise or it’s perception but how food tastes on a plane is due to something else. The great 9 ran two tests, the first on 48 undergraduates and postgraduates at Manchester University and the second on 34. At no time does the article say they were subject to aircraft noise just “white” noise. Nor were they fed airline meals just small mouth sized pieces of snacks like crisps in the first test and rice cakes and other snacks in the second. The amount eaten in the second test wasn’t specified as far as I can see.
My research was based on flying, in the last 6 weeks, on British Airways first class and back to Hong Kong; business class on Cathay Pacific from Hong Kong to Sydney; economy class on Cathay Pacific, Air France and US Air. Uniformly, the food in economy class was edible but not something you’d go out of your way to eat. Taking a couple of crusty rolls and a round of cheddar is tastier as I have often proven to myself. The taste doesn’t seem impaired by listening to the drone of aircraft engines and is a lot better than a soggy, microwaved croissant or the typical beef or pasta. The food in business class was better and in first class, BA laid on a splendid breakfast and dinner. The differences, I think were in the preparation. For 7 people in first class it was easier to concentrate on food preparation. For 250-300 people it is a lot harder. Any influence that noise has is small. In the very front of the Boeing 747 where first class is located, the noise can be greater than in economy class at landing and taxiing.
Somewhere between the research, the article and this story appearing on the BBC, someone put two and two together and wound up with airline food. It does a disservice to the research and doesn’t explain why food in economy class is so unpalatable.

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