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Bad food? Blame the altitude


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Low humidity and low pressure affects your taste buds in-flight.
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(CNN) -- We all tend to complain about airline food, whether it is the rubbery chicken, the cardboard-like fish or the chewy beef, but you might like to blame it on the altitude.

At cruising elevation, food and wine must be more aggressive on the palate if they are to recognize those familiar tastes, since our taste buds lose sensitivity due to both low humidity and air pressure.

Menu planning is also a constant challenge for airlines as they try to please our palettes, especially those of frequent business travelers who travel loyally with one airline.

"Generally speaking, food has to be spicier than it would be if you tasted it on the ground," says Peter Jones of the in-flight catering department of UK's Surrey University.

"Most airlines will take the wine on board the aircraft and taste it, because red wine in particular can taste quite different when drunk in-flight compared to on the ground."

Some airlines even have kitchens that contain a sealed room to replicate the lower in-flight pressure and humidity conditions.

These specific conditions are the same ones that dehydrate our bodies in-flight, making us thirsty. Salty snacks, as well as highly seasoned salty foods, also do not help.

"I would advise drinking lots of water when you are flying to counteract the dehydration. This also affects your digestion of food and tends to slow it down," says Jones.

Airlines are now responding to consumer trends and are moving towards healthy eating, as well as lighter meats and fish that have lower fat content and less seasoning.

"Flying not only disrupts your body clock -- it also messes up your digestive system as well, so I would recommend that people eat light meals before they fly," says Hannah Theobald, a nutritionist at the British Nutrition Foundation.

"Travelers should also have light meals on the plane or request a low energy meal. And if they are hungry, they should consume snacks such as bananas and apples, which will keep your digestive system healthy and help reset your body clock."

Survey puts Gulf Air top

Surveys on food are also helping passengers and airlines gauge quality and change their approach and attitude.

In the latest report by Skytrax market research, Gulf Air was voted the world's best airline for food in first and business class, topping the likes of Swiss International and Thai Airways.

It helps that Gulf Air has onboard chefs who spoil premium passengers by preparing meals on the plane.

Yet, according to Jones, the differences between the flight classes in terms of food technology are few, although in first and business class the finished dish is put together in the galley, instead of being completed on the ground.

"There are real challenges in terms of quality. I think most passengers appreciate that and they understand," says Jones.

"We certainly serve very good quality food onboard aircrafts these days, (but) it does depend on the airline."


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