HomeTravelFlyingNoise-cancelling headphones make airline food taste better

Noise-cancelling headphones make airline food taste better

No-one, unless you are at the pointy end, boards a plane and anticipates enjoying the prospect of airline food.

Airline food is much reviled or barely tolerated, a means to an end, rather than an enjoyable experience, but what if there was an easy fix within the reach of all of us?

No, it’s not bringing your own food, the unlikely hero in this situation is … headphones.

But don’t get your hopes up, the improvement is only about 10 per cent, so your bulk-produced wine is not suddenly going to taste like French champagne.

Read: Airlines that allow you to block out the seat next to you

Oxford Professor Charles Spence claims low-pitched noise such as the drone of plane engines can make food taste up to 10 per cent more bitter.

Prof. Spence has been working for many years on how sound affects taste, as part of a growing body of research that proves hearing also influences our enjoyment of food, not just taste, sight and smell.

He says sound is the “forgotten flavour sense”.

Prof. Spence has published a series of studies examining the connection and discovered that pitch can alter the perceived taste and aroma of food, a phenomenon he calls “sonic seasoning”.

Which is where wearing headphones on planes comes in, to help improve your in-flight dining experience.

Read: Airlines that allow you to block out the seat next to you

Prof. Spence told The Telegraph that cabin air pressure, dry air and loud engine noises all contribute to our inability to taste and smell food and drink while flying.

“Donning a pair of noise-cancelling headphones could actually be one of the simplest ways in which to make food and drink taste better at altitude,” he says.

Anyone who has followed celebrity chef Heston Blumenthal’s career will know he loves delving into the science behind cooking, so he was a natural fit for Prof. Spence’s research.

At Mr Blumenthal’s famous restaurant, the Fat Duck in the UK, they teamed up and found that listening to high-pitched noise increased diners’ perception of sweetness by 10 per cent and low-pitched noises accentuated bitterness by up to 10 per cent.

“The effects … weren’t huge, but they were large enough to potentially make a difference to the tasting experience while up in the air,” Prof. Spence said.

He says the discovery is having a profound influence on how we perceive food. Prof. Spence is working with a hospital near Barcelona to improve the eating experiences of children who have lost their appetite during cancer treatment.

“By picking up these surprising connections that we all share, you can actually design things that are meaningful. There is a lot more information there than we ever realised,” he told The Boston Globe.

Read: Seven genius packing tips that will change your life

But, of course, it’s not just the noise that affects your taste. The combination of the dry air and air pressure also play their part to reduce the sensitivity of your tastebuds to sweet and salty foods by about 30 per cent, according to a study commissioned by Lufthansa.

Scientists found that once at a cruising altitude of approximately 10,000 metres, the cabin humidity drops by 15 per cent and the lowered air pressure forces bodily fluids upwards. With less humidity, people get thirsty more easily as there is less moisture in their throat, which also slows the transport of odours to the brain’s smell and taste receptors.

“It’s like having a cold,” said Florian Mayer, the research team’s leader.

“When you have a cold all your nasal mucus swells up and you have reduced odour and taste perception.”

What do you think of airline food? Do you have any tips to make it taste better? Why not share your suggestions in the comments section below?

Jan Fisher
Jan Fisherhttp://www.yourlifechoices.com.au/author/JanFisher
Accomplished journalist, feature writer and sub-editor with impressive knowledge of the retirement landscape, including retirement income, issues that affect Australians planning and living in retirement, and answering YLC members' Age Pension and Centrelink questions. She has also developed a passion for travel and lifestyle writing and is fast becoming a supermarket savings 'guru'.
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