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Thread: Science Explains Why Airline Food Sucks

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    Default Science Explains Why Airline Food Sucks

    Science Explains Why Airline Food Sucks - ABC News



    It's Not the Airplane Food but the Whirl of Those Engines Ruining Your Meal

    By SCOTT MAYEROWITZ

    Oct. 18, 2010


    Appetizing has never been a word used to describe airline food. But now a team of scientists has come up with a reason why we hate airline food so much: the noise of the airplane engines.

    What?

    Yes, according to researchers at the consumer product manufacturer Unilever and the University of Manchester. They say the annoyingly loud background noise from the airplane's engines disturb our senses and make us enjoy our food that much less.

    You can't rule out the low cost of the food and environmental factors such as air pressure and the dryness of the air, researcher Andy Woods told ABC News. But even so, noise levels still have an impact on our enjoyment or dislike of food.

    "If you can any way reduce the noise, you will make the whole experience better," said Woods, who suggests passengers wear noise-canceling headphones.

    The researchers fed 48 blindfolded participants a variety of foods from biscuits to rice crackers to cheddar cheese. At the same time, headphones either canceled out noise or provided various levels of white noise. The subjects then rated the intensity of the flavors and how much they liked or didn't like them.

    The result: the higher the noise level, the less the participants tasted salty or sweet flavors. Their sensitivity to the crunchiness of their food was amplified.

    But higher noise levels aren't enough to make people hate their meals.

    Marcia Pelchat, a sensory psychologist at the Monell Center who specializes in food acceptance and preferences, said, "there are plenty of very successful restaurants that are very noisy."

    "It depends not just on the presence of noise but the context," said Pelchat, who has not reviewed the full Unilever study.

    And apparently context was key. Woods said that while noise levels had an effect on the intensity of saltiness and sweetness, higher levels of noise did not necessarily mean a bad meal.

    Noise and Food Taste

    In fact, if the subject liked the noise -- even if it was loud -- the food was more enjoyable. Conversely, if they hated the noise, the food was less enjoyable.

    The Unilever team is now moving on to do research on different types of music and food enjoyment.

    Pelchat thinks it is more than sound that affects a meal.

    "Their results are probably correct but there's probably another piece to this story that we don't understand," she said.

    Airlines have tried for years to find the cheapest, most effective way to cook without sacrificing taste -- well, too much taste.

    Singapore Airlines is consistently ranked one of the best airlines for its cuisine. The airline has a pressurized conference room in its Singapore headquarters where the culinary and wine staff does tastings in an environment similar to that of an aircraft.

    A few months ago, the airline let ABC News take part in a periodic review of its menu at an airport hangar.

    The unique cooking conditions at 40,000 feet require the airline to rethink simple things, such as the amount of water added to a dish.

    "One of the difficulties is, because we are cooking on the ground and then heating up [up in the air], the proportion of rice and liquid has to be just right, because otherwise you end up with a pancake upstairs," said Hermann Freidanck, who oversees all of the airline's food and beverage service. "When they reheat, the rice sucks out all the water."

    Cooking on an Airplane

    A dish takes about three hours from the time it is cooked on the ground to be loaded onto a cart, then loaded on a truck and then driven out to the plane. If there is a delay, it could be several more hours until passengers are actually served the food.

    To help keep meals fresh, the different parts -- the meat, the potatoes, the vegetables -- are kept in separate foil compartments for business and first class meals. Each item, including the sauce, is then re-heated separately by the flight attendant onboard. The flight attendants then arrange each meal on a dish according to specifications set out in binders on each plane. There is even a photo -- taken by Freidanck and his team -- of how the dish should look.

    Economy passengers don't get quite the same treatment. Their meals come in one ready-to-serve dish that is just re-heated. But Singapore Airlines still tries to plan its dishes for the best presentations. For instance, pork and rice are separated by a wall of vegetables in one dish -- better to help keep the sauces and tastes separate while heating and to prevent the rice from drying out.

    That might be all great, but Woods still recommends putting on a pair of noise-canceling headphones and maybe your favorite music to better enjoy that next airplane meal.

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    Blrgh. Have noise cancelling headphones- food still tastes awful.
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    I dont think I have ever eaten airline food. Now I KNOW I never will
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    It's Not the Airplane Food
    Oh yes it is.

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    Bullshit.. I was once served something on a flight and I still haven't worked out what it was. Probably a meat. It was grey, tasted like cardboard and was stiff. Almost broke the knife. Airline food is shit because the companies are stingy bastards.
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    Elite Member Ravenna's Avatar
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    Well, the really stingy bastards don't give you anything at all.

    I don't usually mind airline food. Stuff tastes better when I'm ferociously hungry, I guess. It only happened once that I couldn't bear to eat the food even though I was starving. It was some kind of cold cuts that were so RANK I was afraid I'd be poisoned.

    I also don't really get the part about the food seeming crunchier when it's noisier. If anything airline food tends to be mushy.

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    If I know I'm going to be on a longer flight, I'll buy something at one of the places at the food court at the airport before I board my flight - sandwich, apple, banana, something simple and something that won't stink out my fellow passengers. It's NOT the damn engines.
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    I always request a vegetarian meal, which is sometimes locally made and is always tasty. I also get served first. I have no problems at all with airline food.

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    AirlineMeals.net
    AirplaneFood.net

    Both sites have searchable databases of airplane food pictures and reviews, which is strangely fascinating. (Or maybe I'm just weird that way.)

    I got food poisoning on a plane when I was 12 years old. Since then I always pack a couple of Nutrigrain bars and a bag of nuts or some cheese and crackers in my carryon. (Also because whenever I fly, I fly cheap, and these days you're lucky if you get the privilege of paying $10 for a box containing a pouch of tuna, a couple of crackers, a tiny bag of pertified pretzels and a cardboard cookie in Economy.)

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    It's best to bring a sandwich and your own snacks along. Especially when flying with the cheap bastards Delta. They will starve you on a 6 hour flight. But you're better off.

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    You could buy some food at the food courts that are adjacent to the airport, then go onto the plane with it and eat it there.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Sleuth View Post
    Bullshit.. I was once served something on a flight and I still haven't worked out what it was. Probably a meat. It was grey, tasted like cardboard and was stiff. Almost broke the knife. Airline food is shit because the companies are stingy bastards.
    I had something similar on the plane once, they called it "Pot Roast", well I called it "Pig Shit" and didn't eat it.

    I usually just bring a couple of snacks on the plane, and if the airline offers fruit I'll eat that as well.

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    Quote Originally Posted by mikesandy View Post
    You could buy some food at the food courts that are adjacent to the airport, then go onto the plane with it and eat it there.
    And put it into your carry on bag and stow it in the overhead bin for takeoff where it would drip all over everything and probably spark some biohazard panic.

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    Shoot! You're right. Maybe I should have said "They should eat all of the food before getting on to the plane."

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    It sucks because it can. They have you 30,000 miles up where you can't get anything else, and you are either bored (if you're lucky) or terrified (if you're like me).

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