The beverage that rules them all on a flight is tomato juice.
This nutritious drink is a firm favourite among plane passengers, and in-flight consumption is said to be pretty steep. But why…?
Back in 2008, German airline Lufthansa noticed they were going through an awful lot of tomato juice – a whopping 1.7 million litres year!
This sparked an investigation into the popularity of tomato juice at high altitudes, which led to pretty interesting results.
Better Under Pressure
In 2010, scientists at Fraunhofer Institute for Building Physics (IBP) revealed that our taste for tomato juice at 30,000ft is enhanced because of the different air pressure conditions.
Under the low cabin pressure, our taste detectors and sense of smell are completely different. Whilst on the ground tomato juice, such as V8 Original, is a savoury delight.
However, once in the air it becomes an instantly sweet and fruity drink – the perfect, refreshing treat on a long-haul flight.
Whilst we’re on a plane, the low air pressure affects how much oxygen reaches the blood, and this desensitises our odour and taste receptors.
Low air pressure also causes mucus in our naval cavities to expand, which further affects our taste and sense of smell.
Basically, our perceptions of food and drink mimic what it’s like when we have a cold. Salt is suddenly perceived as 20-30% less intense, whilst the intensity of sugar drops by 15-20%.
Tomato juice tastes better on a plane because the strong, natural flavours of tomato juice taste more intense and satisfying when your taste buds are being suppressed by cabin pressure.
This also explains why aeroplane food tastes bland.
So if you’re looking to make your tomato juice taste better, take it 30,000ft up in the air!
Why Do You Crave Tomato Juice On Flights?
Obviously, not everyone knows that the humble tomato juice tastes better at altitude. It’s not like Lufthansa were advertising the miracles of tomato science.
So why do you crave it anyway?
Some people have trouble flying. Nerves, air pressure and the sniffles of your fellow passengers can make you feel under the weather.
When we don’t feel well, we naturally look for healthy things to eat and drink to feel better. But aeroplanes have limited list of options. When you’re feeling ill on a flight, tomato juice is the only option for fruit or veggies.
Some find that the texture and thickness of tomato juice helps settle their stomach.
There are theories suggesting that aircraft background noise could also have an influence on our taste buds.
In a study, 1000 participants were put in a flight simulator that mimicked the environment of an airplane – complete with the turbulence, air pressure and engine noise.
The researchers then served the participants food and drink, and 27% ordered tomato juice. Of this number, 23% admitted they rarely drink the juice at home.
In the article, Airplane Noise and the Taste of Umami , published in the Flavour Journal, the authors suggest food and drink rich in umami is resistant to the white noise on an airplane.
Umami is the name for the pleasant savoury taste found in a wide range of foods, such as tomato juice.
Whilst more research is needed to conclude this, a number of airlines now prioritise umami-rich menus to cater for passengers in the air – with tomato juice and Bloody Mary’s at the top of the list!
Some people just drink tomato juice on planes because it’s a novelty. After all, you’re going on holiday! You’re in a curious frame of mind and don’t usually drink Bloody Mary’s.
Others may have heard that tomato juice tastes better in the air and wish to try it and see if it’s true. And since you’re sitting on a plane for hours, why not give it a try?
High Flying Juice
So next time you’re flying off somewhere, be sure to order some tomato juice to find out exactly how the delicious beverage tastes at 30,000ft up.
If you haven’t got any flights booked in the near future, you can make your own V8 Original Bloody Mary Mocktail with all the flavour of an in-flight tipple.