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Eating on the plane

SEND DATE Sun., 07/11/10 | 5:03 pm | The first

Scientists at the Fraunhofer Institute have investigated why food on board an aircraft usually tastes bland and boring in a flight simulator that is unique in the world. Not only did they get a little closer to the secret of tomato juice.

Earthly kitchen rules are quickly overridden above the clouds. You can already see that in one of the most popular airplane drinks, tomato juice. Lufthansa pours 1.6 million liters of it a year, 100,000 liters more than with beer. The steep flight path of the tomato juice begins with the fact that the other dishes are culinarily deserted at lofty heights. As soon as nothing tastes good, a vegetable juice can also become a gourmet delight

It's not because of the ingredients

The on-board fare, on the other hand, is by and large very unpopular. At the beginning of commercial aircraft history, people were still cooking on board, but since the 1950s, when only ready-made meals were warmed up in the aircraft, passengers have been complaining about board meals.

It's not necessarily because of the chefs or ingredients. In the large kitchen of LSG Sky Chefs at Munich Airport, 1,200 employees strive to bring not just 40,000 meals on board every day. Indian, Japanese, European, in short, chefs from all corners of the world are employed to meet the tastes of their compatriots. They cut, season, stir and bake according to every trick in the book. They know from experience that they have to season and salt plane food more strongly. Asian dishes, which are prepared with lots of soy sauce and lots of spices, are best received by passengers. But even what tastes really hot on the ground often has hardly any taste in the air. Why is it that the wort evaporates so quickly above the clouds?

The pressure is too low

Andrea Burdack-Freitag from the Fraunhofer Institute for Building Physics in Holzkirchen is on the trail of the answer to this question. The aroma chemist suspects that the changed pressure conditions on board an airplane are to blame for the sudden loss of taste.

As soon as the aircraft has reached its cruising altitude, somewhere between 10,000 and 12,000 meters, there is a pressure in the cabin that corresponds to around 2,000 to 2,400 meters above sea level. Under this changed pressure, the air to breathe becomes a little scarcer, and in general the blood has a little less oxygen. This means that less oxygen is available to the odor and taste receptors. Andrea Burdack-Freitag suspects that this is why these receptors are less efficient.

An odor test under pressure: what is left of the gummy bear aroma

To check her assumptions, the researcher is preparing an odor test. It dilutes various aromas, such as ethyl butanoate, or simply gummy bear aroma, with water to different degrees. The researcher then tests the detection and perception threshold of these smells on test subjects - once under low pressure and once under normal pressure.

The perception threshold of the gummy bear aroma is 0.5 µg / L drinking water at normal pressure, at low pressure it rises immediately to 5 µg / L drinking water, i.e. the concentration must be ten times as high at low air pressure before the test persons perceive it

A taste test on the plane

The test subjects then climb into a decommissioned cabin that was once an Airbus A310 and is now stuck in a metal tube from the Fraunhofer Institute. The scientists can simulate cruising altitudes of up to 12,000 meters, i.e. pressure conditions that are similar to those at an altitude of 2,200 meters. In addition, the sounds of an airplane are played back from the tape. A real "feeling of flight" is created.

The test subjects in the tube are given portions of poached poultry breast, plus there is a dill cream sauce, a chive sauce and a lime sauce. Each a conventional floor variant and one that has been modified for flying. The test subjects have to evaluate which recipes taste better. Mango cream and red fruit jelly are added in further rounds.

Bitter persists, salt disappears

After a total of five test series with around 150 test persons, Andrea Burdack-Freitag can conclude that acids and bitter substances in particular remain unaffected by the air pressure. Bitter is an important warning sign for the body against potential toxins. The body cannot allow fluctuations in its perception.

Salt and sugar decrease in perception by about 30 percent. If the chefs aren't careful, acids and bitter flavors quickly dominate a menu. This phenomenon of change in taste has been known for a long time in the case of wines: light, sour wines only taste sour on board an airplane; Earthy, heavy wines, on the other hand, are also a pleasure in the cabin.

The researcher also comes a little closer to the riddle of tomato juice: It owes its steep aircraft career above all to its bitter aroma, which looks musty on the ground but tastes fruity and cooling above the clouds. In addition, these bitter substances curb the appetite.

Addresses & links

The flight simulator is located in the Fraunhofer Institute for Building Physics in Holzkirchen.
Fraunhofer Institute for Building Physics Holzkirchen
Fraunhoferstrasse 10
83626 Valley
Internet: www.ibp.fraunhofer.de

Author: Nicoletta Renz (BR)

Status: 08/12/2015 1:34 p.m.