Umami the new secret to in-flight menu success


Photograph by Ruth Fremson for The New York Times

In March, major news outlets covered airline management buzz around umami having a unique taste property: for some reason, it still works right at 35,000 feet.

According to the New York Times piece, “At high altitudes, only umami — the pleasant, savory “fifth” taste beloved by Japanese chefs — is enhanced for reasons that are not entirely clear. So Bloody Marys, which contain the umami-rich tomato and Worcestershire sauce, taste far better in the sky than on the ground. It’s the most consumed cocktail on passenger flights, airlines say.”

Charles Spence is an expert in how different sensory mechanisms interact with one another. He speculates that the noise on the plane, even at 80-85 decibels (“quieter than in a New York restaurant”), stresses out our inner cave(wo)man:

“When faced with predators or during stressful situations, our ancestors may have turned to umami, which prompts dollops of saliva, ‘in order to get the energy to fight or flight.'”

Combine that with humidity lower than most deserts, and low atmospheric pressure, and our smell mechanisms (which make up a big part of ‘flavor’ – or what most of us call ‘taste’) just don’t respond the way they do on the ground, according to taste expert Peter Barham of the University of Bristol…

Read the full article here: Airlines Aim to Trick Your Taste Buds at 30,000 Feet

(Article originally published March 1, 2017 on

Additional links:

LA Times – Palate pleasers at 30,000 feet

National Post – From opulence to budget, why is airline food so universally terrible and consistently disappointing?

The Boston Globe – Experts share their recipes for good food — and wine — at altitude

The Economist – What to drink at 30,000 feet – It’s all about umami for these airline specialty beverages





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