airplane food taste

Airline Food: The Science and Art Behind Your In-Flight Meal


Hopping on a plane and traveling to different destinations is a whole lot of fun. Even if the flight is long, you can still appreciate the stunning views from the airplane window. You can also rest easy knowing that your flight is handled by expert pilots who have completed their flight school training with flying colors.

However, one thing you might not be excited about during your flight is the airplane food. In-flight meals are notorious for not tasting great and because of this, many travelers don’t want to eat the food that’s being offered on the plane. If you have a short flight time, eating nothing during your flight wouldn’t be a problem. But if you’re in it for the long haul, flying with an empty stomach can make you feel queasy.

in-flight meals

Fortunately, airline companies are implementing various strategies to make airplane food taste appetizing. Before we get to that, however, let’s figure out why in-flight meals may taste bland in the first place.

Reasons Why In-Flight Meals Taste Different

There are several reasons why airplane food tastes subpar, and most of the causes don’t come from the ingredients used in the meals. They usually come from the following factors:

Altitude and Cabin Pressure

When you’re soaring through the sky on an airplane, the high altitude causes the cabin pressure levels to change. This shift has a noticeable impact on how you taste the food because the altered environment can affect your taste buds. Imagine the sensation of having a cold and how it can make your sense of taste feel a bit off. Well, being up in the air creates a similar effect. This causes the flavors of airplane food to be milder, causing the taste of the food that you eat in-flight to be less pronounced than it would be on solid ground.

Dry Air

Apart from changing cabin pressure levels, the altitude can also impact the humidity levels in the plane. There’s less atmospheric pressure and water vapor at high altitudes, and since the air circulating in the plane is pulled from the outside, the air inside the aircraft has very little humidity. The lack of moisture in the air can dry out your nasal passages, affecting your ability to smell. Our sense of smell is responsible for the majority of what we taste, and if it becomes compromised, it can cause the flavors of your in-flight meal to be less vibrant.

Safety Regulations

Airlines have strict safety regulations to ensure everyone’s well-being during flights. While these rules are crucial, they can also influence how food is prepared and served. Chefs and catering teams have to abide by specific guidelines, and this sometimes means using particular ingredients or cooking methods. While these measures are in place for a good reason, they can pose challenges for chefs aiming to create the most flavorful dishes. Safety comes first, and sometimes, that means sacrificing a bit of the culinary pizzazz we might find in other settings.

What Do Airlines Do to Get the Flavors Just Right

To solve this issue, airline companies tweak the recipe of their in-flight meals to ensure that their food tastes good even when the plane is thousands of feet up in the air. They also collaborate with food experts and incorporate modern cooking techniques to improve the quality of their food. Let’s dive into some of these solutions so that we can get a better understanding of how they work.

Enhance the Flavors with Seasoning and Flavoring

To make airplane food taste better, chefs add various blends of herbs, spices, and seasonings to give the meals more flavor. It’s a simple solution, but when the right balance of flavors is added, it works like magic.

Add Umami-Rich Ingredients

Another way chefs can enhance the flavor of airplane food is by using umami-rich ingredients like ketchup, soy sauce, and Worcestershire sauce. The umami flavor gives a savory and rich kick to the food, so when added to in-flight meals like steak, chicken, or pasta, it retains their savoriness, making them way more enjoyable.

Use Fresh Ingredients

Chefs make an effort to use fresh and good-quality ingredients for in-flight meals. Freshness adds a burst of flavor, and even though in-flight meals are reheated, starting with the best ingredients ensures that your food tastes as close to freshly made as possible.

Apply Innovative Cooking Techniques

Chefs come up with cool tricks to make the food taste awesome despite the challenges. Special cooking techniques, like cooking food in a vacuum-sealed bag (also known as sous-vide), keep the flavors locked in, ensuring that the deliciousness of the food remains—even when meals are prepared ahead of time and reheated on the plane.

Collaborate with Renowned Chefs

Airlines sometimes team up with food superstars, like famous chefs, to create meals that don’t only taste amazing but can stay fresh longer as well. These renowned chefs bring their culinary expertise to the table, suggesting awesome recipes and techniques to ensure that your airplane food is top-notch throughout the flight.

airplane food
Photo by Lisha Riabinina on Unsplash

Although airplane food isn’t the most satisfying thing in the world, it doesn’t deserve its bad reputation. Many airline companies are employing various strategies to ensure that your in-flight meals taste great, whether the plane is on the runway or up in the sky. That’s why, the next time you’re on a plane, don’t hesitate to try the food that’s being served. You might be surprised that you’ll be tasting a myriad of delicious flavors, once you take your first bite.


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