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Umami flavours enhanced by the noise experienced on aeroplanes

15 May 2015  •  Author(s): Victoria White

While examining how aeroplane noise affects the palate, Cornell University scientists discovered that sweet tastes are suppressed whilst “umami” tastes are enhanced.


A Japanese scientific term, umami describes the sweet, savoury taste of amino acids such as glutamate in foods like tomato juice, and according to the new study, in noisy situations – like the 85 decibels aboard a jetliner – the flavours of umami-rich foods become enhanced.

“Our study confirmed that in an environment of loud noise, our sense of taste is compromised. Interestingly, this was specific to sweet and umami tastes, with sweet taste inhibited and umami taste significantly enhanced,” said Robin Dando, Assistant Professor of Food Science. “The multi-sensory properties of the environment where we consume our food can alter our perception of the foods we eat.”

Auditory conditions in air travel may enhance umami

The study may guide reconfiguration of airline food menus to make airline food taste better. Auditory conditions in air travel actually may enhance umami, the researchers found. In contrast, exposure to the loud noise condition dulled sweet taste ratings.

Airlines acknowledge the phenomenon. German airline Lufthansa had noticed that passengers were consuming as much tomato juice as beer. The airline commissioned a private study released last fall that showed cabin pressure enhanced tomato juice taste.

Taste perception depends not only on the integration of several sensory inputs associated with the food or drink itself, but also on the sensory attributes of the environment in which the food is consumed, the scientists say.

“The multisensory nature of what we consider ‘flavour’ is undoubtedly underpinned by complex central and peripheral interactions,” said Dando. “Our results characterize a novel sensory interaction, with intriguing implications for the effect of the environment in which we consume food.”

Kimberly Yan co-authored the study with Robin Dando. “A Crossmodal Role for Audition in Taste Perception,” is published online in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance.

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