Why airplane food tastes different…and a tip for making it taste better.

I heard the most interesting thing on NPR the other day. Did you know that you can change the way you taste food by changing the sounds you listen to as you eat?

It turns out that high-frequency sounds enhance the sweetness in food, while low frequencies bring out the bitterness. You can try this yourself here. Make sure you have something to sip or drink while you listen (anything that has a mix of both sweet and bitter flavors will work – a cup of coffee or a piece of chocolate is a good choice).

Take a bite or a sip, then play the “sweet” sound as you taste. Notice what it feels like in your mouth. To me, it felt…smooth.

Now take a bite or a sip, and play the “bitter” sound. I couldn’t help but pucker up a little this time! It was involuntary!

So get this – studies have shown that loud background noise (such as the level of noise onboard a plane, for example) suppresses saltiness, sweetness, and overall taste of food.

This dude has an interesting theory – foods that have a strong “umami” flavor (such as tomatoes, cured meats, or parmesan cheese) are the only tastes that are relatively unaffected by a high level of background noise. Could be an interesting avenue for airline catering…and might also explain why so many people order Bloody Marys in flight!

Did you notice a taste difference with the sweet and bitter sounds? Do you order Bloody Marys while up in the air? Are you going to suggest this idea for your kid’s next science project? Do tell!




  1. Which sounds do I need to lose weight? Apparently loud background noise on planes has made me (and certain others 😉 ) fat!

  2. This is lovely! 😀 No wonder my bloddy mary’s always taste great at 30,000 ft. 😛

  3. Points Pixie says:

    Gene – You (and others, myself included) need the sounds of a treadmill and clinking weights. 😉

    Diego – Exactly!! Even though I’m not a Bloody Mary fan, I might have to try one to see what all the fuss is about!

  4. Wow this is incredibly interesting. Although I think people order bloody martinis because they are straight up delicious, no matter if my feet are planted on the ground or I’m in an airplane. I’ve definitely noticed in business and first class they often serve a lot of cured meats, maybe this partly explains why.

  5. Rebecca says:

    wow that was trippy! definitely a kids science experiment waiting to happen.

  6. Points Pixie says:

    William Charles – Yes, the mystery of the abundant cured meats has been solved! 😉

    Rebecca – Yes, I can’t wait for next year’s science fair.

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