Make mine tomato juice: taste preferences in noisy places like jetliners


Wednesday, 27 May, 2015


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In noisy situations - like the 85 dB aboard a jetliner - it seems that our sense of taste is compromised and umami-rich foods are preferred over sweet options.

To their surprise, Cornell University food scientists found that in noisy places sweetness is suppressed and umami is preferred. (Umami is a Japanese scientific term that describes the sweet/savoury taste of amino acids such as glutamate in foods like tomato juice.)

“Our study confirmed that in an environment of loud noise, our sense of taste is compromised. Interestingly, this was specific to sweet and umami tastes, with sweet taste inhibited and umami taste significantly enhanced,” said Robin Dando, assistant professor of food science. “The multisensory properties of the environment where we consume our food can alter our perception of the foods we eat.”

With Dando, Kimberly Yan, co-authored the study, A Crossmodal Role for Audition in Taste Perception, published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance.

The study may guide reconfiguration of airline food menus to make airline food taste better. Auditory conditions in air travel actually may enhance umami, the researchers found. In contrast, exposure to the loud noise condition dulled sweet taste ratings.

Airlines acknowledge the phenomenon. German airline Lufthansa had noticed that passengers were consuming as much tomato juice as beer. The airline commissioned a private study released last fall that showed cabin pressure enhanced tomato juice taste.

Taste perception depends not only on the integration of several sensory inputs associated with the food or drink itself, but also on the sensory attributes of the environment in which the food is consumed, the scientists said.

“The multisensory nature of what we consider ‘flavour’ is undoubtedly underpinned by complex central and peripheral interactions,” said Dando. “Our results characterise a novel sensory interaction, with intriguing implications for the effect of the environment in which we consume food.”

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