April 1, 2023

The Sky-High Flavor: Why Tomato Juice Tastes Better on Airplanes

By Paul William

April 1, 2023

Disclosure: Some of the links below may be affiliate links which means I receive a commission, at no extra cost to you, if you make a purchase through them.

Have you ever noticed that tomato juice somehow tastes better while you’re on an airplane?

I almost always order some when flying, and was curious how many others did the same.

As it turns out, I’m far from alone, and there’s some fascinating science behind the drinks popularity on commercial airline flights.

To give you some context on how popular it is: Lufthansa claims they serve 53,000 gallons of tomato juice annually, making it one of the most popular non-alcoholic beverages on their flights. Interestingly, this amount is just shy of the 59,000 gallons of beer served on the same airline in the same period.

So if you share my taste for sipping airplane tomato on your flights too, let’s dive into the reasons why tomato juice seems to be extra delicious when enjoyed at 35,000 feet and why we all crave it.

Cabin Pressure: The Sky’s the Limit

At cruising altitude, the cabin pressure is lower than at sea level, simulating conditions at around 6,000 to 8,000 feet above ground.

This change in pressure affects our taste buds, reducing our ability to taste sweet and salty flavors by up to 30%. While some foods might taste bland in-flight, tomato juice truly stands out.

Humidity: A Dry Twist

Low cabin humidity levels, typically around 10-20%, contribute to the dehydration experienced by passengers.

This dehydration, in turn, affects our perception of flavors. Studies have shown that dehydration can diminish our sense of saltiness and sweetness, allowing the savory taste of tomato juice to shine.

Background Noise: A Silver Lining

The airplane’s engine noise, though sometimes bothersome, has an intriguing impact on our taste perception.

Research indicates that loud background noise can suppress sweet and salty flavors, while enhancing the savory umami taste found in tomatoes.

This creates a unique sensory experience, with the engine noise providing an unexpected boost to the taste of tomato juice.

Umami: The Secret to Savory Satisfaction

Tomatoes are rich in glutamates, which are responsible for the savory umami taste. When combined with the effects of cabin pressure, humidity, and background noise, the umami-rich nature of tomato juice becomes even more appealing to our taste buds.

RELATED POST: To Bring or Not to Bring: Is It Rude to Carry Your Own Food on a Flight?

So, Why Does Tomato Juice Taste Better On Planes?

Tomato juice tastes better on airplanes due to the unique combination of cabin pressure, humidity, and background noise that enhances its umami flavor.

This popular in-flight beverage is not only satisfying and filling, but it may also provide relief for travelers experiencing motion sickness or nausea.

I can personally attest to this, as my motion sickness is always worse on an empty stomach, and consuming some calories almost always helps.

So, the next time you find yourself enjoying a glass of tomato juice on a flight, take a moment to appreciate the interplay of cabin pressure, humidity, and background noise that makes this seemingly simple beverage taste extraordinary in the sky.

With a better understanding of the science behind the phenomenon, you can savor your tomato juice even more and feel superior to everyone else on the plane with your newfound airplane juice knowledge.

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