Sandwiches optimised for flight

Food science shows how utilising umami can overcome the body’s inability to perceive flavours during plane journeys.

14 March 2019
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New sandwiches could offer travellers the chance to join the mile high club in a different way – tapping into their changing taste buds to deliver an enhanced flavour experience while they are in the sky.

London Stansted airport teamed up with luxury food outlet Not Always Caviar to create a sandwich designed with flavours that are enhanced at altitude.

Aeroplane food isn’t often known for its culinary qualities. This project, however, uses the same food science that has been employed by some of the world’s premium airlines for their business class passengers. It’s based on food research into the body’s reduced ability to perceive flavours when flying and relies on the fifth taste, umami.

Evidence shows that the combination of dry air and low pressure during flights reduces people’s sensitivity to food aromas, said Professor Barry Smith, director of the Centre of the Study of the Senses at the University of London, who was involved in the project.

“Additionally, the sound of white noise at 80 decibels or above has an impact on the brain’s ability to perceive sweet, salt and sour from the tongue – reducing its intensity by about 10-15%,” he explained. “In an aircraft cabin you are subjected to white noise of around 89 decibels. This will greatly reduce the flavours we can taste whilst flying.”

Professor Smith turned to umami-rich ingredients for aid, as well as foodstuffs like avocado and tomato, as they contain glutamates.

The sandwiches include Signature Seafood Club (with optional caviar sauce) and the Salt Beef, served with pickles. Both also feature a special blended umami seasoning.

Dubbed the Sky High sandwiches, they will be sold at the Not Always Caviar cafe at the airport.

Umami kick

Foods rich in umami provide depth of flavour and boost other basic tastes like salt, sweet and sour, Professor Smith added.

“Umami is also immune to the effects of white noise on our perception of taste. Another way of boosting flavour mid-flight – where the altitude and white noise levels are high – is to combine different types of umami rich foods, creating synergistic umami,” he commented.

“This occurs when foods with naturally occurring glutamates are combined with others that contain nucleotides. Foods that combine these ingredients will produce a product that’s packed with flavour – even at 35,000 feet.”

To ensure the results actually worked, the product development team at Not Always Caviar tested the Sky High sandwiches in flight as part of the development process.

Aboudy Nasser, chief commercial officer at London Stansted Airport, said the sandwiches were part of its mission to innovate, explaining that by harnessing science, it could create something unique for guests that tastes great on the ground and even better up in the air.

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