The Science Behind Why Tomato Juice Tastes Better on a Plane

Cabin pressure and peer pressure both contribute to our airborne tomato juice habits

Photo Sasabune Omakase Modified: Flickr/erin/CC 4.0

The Science Behind Why Tomato Juice Tastes Better on a Plane

After calculating that it served 53,000 gallons of tomato juice a year (compared to 59,000 gallons of beer), German airline Lufthansa hired the Fraunhofer Society, a German research institute, to figure out why.

Inside a flight simulator that perfectly mimicked a flight inside an Airbus A310 (down to the blue sky and clouds), subjects consistently reported that tomato juice tasted better than it did in a non-flight environment.

"We learned that tomato juice being on ground level is rather... I'm not saying moldy, but it tastes earthy, it tastes not overly fresh," Lufthansa catering executive Ernst Derenthal, told NBC New York. "However, as soon as you have it at 30,000 feet, tomato juice shows, let's say, its better side. It shows more acidity, it has some mineralic taste with it, and it's very refreshing."

Food does indeed taste different in the air: the low pressure decreases the amount of oxygen flowing through your blood, “which makes your odor and taste receptors less sensitive. Mucus in your nasal cavities also expands in the low pressure environment, which makes it even harder to taste.

“On top of that, most airlines keep the cabin at about 10 to 15 percent humidity,” reports NBC New York. ”This dries out your nose and mouth, cutting down your sense of taste even more. Congestion, dehydration -- it feels kind of like having a bad cold. Sweets are less sweet, salty food is less salty, and it's harder to taste certain herbs and spices (curry retains its flavor at altitude, but that's another story). As a result, most airplane food tastes bland, but tomato juice actually tastes better up in the air.”

Lastly, there’s the effect of the group: "Many people, they have not made their mind up, and just wonder, 'What should I drink?’ In two minutes I will be asked by the flight attendants," said Derenthal. "And then you see someone in front of you having a tomato juice and you think, 'Why not? That's a good idea. Oh, I'll have the same as the gentleman in the other row.'"

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Karen Lo is an associate editor at The Daily Meal. Follow her on Twitter @appleplexy.  

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