Why Does Tomato Juice Taste Better On An Airplane?

It's not exactly gourmet, but airplane food certainly hits the spot when you're several thousand feet above the ground, at least when it comes to feeling satiated. Dining on an Italian beef sandwich from JetBlue or a chicken cobb salad served on American Airlines might sound appetizing, but there's a reason why these kinds of meals tend to taste and smell off.

Budget Travels explains this is due to the "10 to 15 percent humidity level that's standard on airplanes." Combined with low pressure, this reduces your sense of taste and smell. Your mouth and nose get dry, blood oxygen levels drop, and those receptors in your brain don't get those scent and odor messages quite as quickly, per DW. In other words, trying to eat food on an airplane is like eating food when you have a cold, where nothing seems to taste good.

But there is one exception: tomato juice. You might have heard that consuming tomato juice on an airplane tastes like magic, but why? Why does tomato juice get a pass?

The umami factor is enhanced

There are five basic tastes within the culinary universe, and the fifth one to join these rankings is umami, which is described as a savory taste, per WebMD. When you consume meat, fish, cheese, and dried shiitake mushrooms, those umami flavors can be detected all over the tongue and "sustain secretion levels of saliva for a longer period," per the Umami Information Center. And can you guess what else is filled with umami? Tomatoes.

Interestingly enough, cabin noise affects how we taste certain kinds of foods. Of the five basic tastes, sweet flavors tend to plummet while salty, sour, and bitter tastes don't change. But foods rich in umami heighten immensely, and that goes for tomatoes too, as noted by Technology Org. But how much noise affects our tastes? Budget Travel states that it has to be pretty high, and an 85-decibel noise level on a 575 mph plane usually does the trick.

The latter source also notes that tomato juice is like a coin, as it tastes different on the ground versus on a plane. At 85 decibels, you'll taste rich umami flavors, stronger acidity, and "mineralic" notes. But normally, tomato juice has more earthy flavors that don't taste too fresh to some people. And if you fall into this category, try ordering tomato juice on a plane next time. You might be refreshingly surprised.