People’s perceptions of smells and tastes are different in the air, largely because the reduced pressure in the aircraft affects the human body. Oxygen saturation in the blood is reduced, which, according to the study, affects the olfactory and taste receptors. It was eventually concluded that the average person’s sensitivity to sweet and salty food is reduced by 30% inflight and, later, that umami is actually enhanced in the air. In short, it’s not the food so much as you.
Fortunately, airlines have tailored their meal and snack offerings accordingly (usually, they’re all either extra salty or extra sugary to compensate). For inflight cocktails however, the onus is on you to order correctly.
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According to Condé Nast Traveler, science can help there, too. The trick is, if you haven’t already gathered, to stick to beverages of the extra carbonated and/or extra flavorful, variety — which is why nutritionist and food writer Joy Skipper recommends, first and foremost, Bloody Marys.
“Tomato-based drinks such as a Bloody Mary or Virgin Mary with a big dash of Worcestershire sauce will provide a great umami kick,” Skipper told CNT.
A lot of airlines hawk canned Bloody Mary mixers or, at the very least, offer tomato juice, though if Worcestershire sauce and Tabasco are in short supply, there are still a handful of other options that will get the job done, too — a Moscow Mule or Gin & Tonic chief among them. In both cases, the spicy and bitter aftertastes, respectively, can serve to stimulate your taste buds in the air. Mimosas, thanks to the bubbles in the champagne, can have a similar effect.
Wine is also a safe bet. “If you are trying to choose foods with complex and layered flavors, drinking wine allows for the nuances of these conditions to enhance the drinker’s enjoyment,” Joy explained. “Some airlines offer selected wines that are fruity with low acid and low tannin to allow for the changes that happen to the wines in the air, too.”
Lastly, if none of those feel elevated enough for your tastes, Joy suggests a wasabi Martini or jalapeño Margarita, though as an admitted spicy marg aficionado myself, those feel like a bit of stretch. Don’t expect to find a wasabi Martini on the menu of any commercial carrier.
Of course, I’d be remiss not to point out that, due to the lack of moisture on the aircraft, the air in the cabin is incredibly drying. That’s why it’s extremely important that you drink water, especially if you’re imbibing. So by all means — drink that Bloody Mary. Drink 10! But drink your water, too.
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