Airline meals have a well-deserved reputation for being mediocre and bland (that is, of course, when the airlines bother to feed us at all). But instead of blaming high altitude, dry air or cheap ingredients, researchers are now offering a new explanation for why that rubbery chicken on your transatlantic flight is so lousy: engine noise.
A recent study conducted by Unilever and the University of Manchester shows that the more background noise you hear while you’re eating, the less able you are to distinguish salty or sweet flavors, reports ABC News. In the study, participants were blindfolded and asked to eat various foods while listening to different levels of white noise (or no noise at all). Participants who heard higher volumes of noise noticed less intense sweet and salty flavors, and were more sensitive to how crunchy their food was.
According to the researchers, it’s not just the volume of noise that matters but also your feelings about it. If you like the sounds you’re hearing, even if they’re loud (such as music and chatter in a trendy restaurant), you’re more likely to enjoy your meal. But in the air, the constant noisy whine of the plane’s engines could make your dinner significantly less palatable. Add to that the fact that airline food rarely looks all that appetizing either, and it’s no wonder most of us are scowling into our trays.
So what’s an air traveler to do? Andy Woods, one of the researchers who contributed to the study, recommends wearing noise-canceling headphones as a way to overcome the effects of engine noise. Bon appetit!
–written by Sarah Schlichter