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The Science Behind Salty Airline Food

In this collection, Artist Signe Emma combines a scientific overview of the role salt plays in airline food with electron microscope scans of salt crystals arranged to look like the views from an airplane–a rather clever and visually stunning way to deliver the message.

Attached to the collection is this explaination of why airlines load their snacks and meals with salt:

White noise consists of a random collection of sounds at different frequencies and scientists have demonstrated that it is capable of diminishing the taste of salt. At low-pressure conditions, higher taste and odour thresholds of flavourings are generally observed.

At 30.000 feet the cabin humidity drops by 15%, and the lowered air pressure forces bodily fluids upwards. With less humidity, people have less moisture in their throat, which slows the transport of odours to the brains smell and taste receptors. That means that if a meal should taste the same up in the air, as on ground it needs 30% of extra salt.

To combat the double assault on our sense of taste, the airlines boost the salt content to compensate. For more neat microscope scans as high-altitude view photographs, hit up the link below.

Airline Food [via FastCompany]

Jason Fitzpatrick is warranty-voiding DIYer and all around geek. When he's not documenting mods and hacks he's doing his best to make sure a generation of college students graduate knowing they should put their pants on one leg at a time and go on to greatness, just like Bruce Dickinson. You can follow him on if you'd like.

  • Published 07/11/12

Comments (6)

  1. Jon

    Passengers in a commercial airliner are at a maximum altitude of about 8,000 feet, irrespective of how high the plane is.

  2. r

    looks delicious !

  3. Stu

    They add extra salt to compensate for the lousy taste of pre-made pre-packaged lousy tasting food in the first place. Just ignore the bunk science of pressure/altitude and the “dry throat” excuses.
    If a meal tasted good in the first place without salt , but with fresh ingredients and spices, it would taste good anywhere.

  4. Sam

    Did you notice it said white noise was the cause of the change in the taste of the food? Not the altitude! “Research shows that people lose their sense of taste when listening to the sort of ‘white noise’ heard inside an aircraft’s cabin.”

  5. rangerevo8

    Wouldn’t the increase of salt affect health?

  6. spike

    @Jon: For clarity.. You mean the pressure in the cabin is lowered to the equivalent of a maximum of 8000 feet. (of course, the people are physically as high as the plane!)

    @Stu: Although the science is part of it, you are right. Lousy food is cheaper, which is one of the biggest concerns of theirs. Also, it’s interesting that salt is a preservative! Not that it is exactly used for this on airline meals, but it’s the same general concept.

    @rangerevo8: Yep it does. However, if anyone flies often enough for the extra salt in their meals to make a health difference, I would be amazed.

    I do have to question the part about 15% decrease in humidity drying out your throat.. really? The amount of fluid you drink has a much greater affect on this, and 15% humidity change is negligible. Humidity levels don’t immediately affect much except the moisture level of your skin and the inside of your nose, and if you are drinking anything with your meal, I don’t see how there could be a difference.

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