The Scientific Reasons Some Sodas Taste Different On Airplanes

Have you ever sat in a window or aisle seat on a plane, leisurely sipping a soda, when you thought to yourself, "This is the best can of ginger ale or the worst can of Coke I've ever had"? Turns out there's a scientific reason for both of these. When you are up in the air, the cabin pressure and the dryness that accompanies it can dull your taste buds, dramatically altering how your mouth experiences sweet and salty sensations. The lack of moisture when you are flying high above the clouds is a result of little to no water vapor. This is what causes your throat and nose to feel dry, hence why the flight attendant is always asking you if you want something to drink. 

Naturally, the airlines are well aware of this, and this phenomenon has caused them to invest in studies to better understand the cause and effect. According to research conducted by the Fraunhofer Institute for Building Physics IBP for Lufthansa AG, the taste of sugary foods and drinks diminishes between 15% and 20% when you are flying high, while salty flavors experience a more substantial decrease that ranges between 20% and 30%. Consequently, people who may not enjoy ginger ale at a party may appreciate its sharp, refreshing taste when cruising at high altitudes.

Drink sooner rather than later

However, while the taste of ginger ale becomes more attractive when flying, other carbonated beverages are negatively impacted and not just in how they taste. Diet Coke tends to be foamier and more difficult to pour when you are on a plane.  And unfortunately, plenty of folks have also complained that both Coke and Diet Coke do not taste as sweet when they are flying. To combat this issue, some say, you need to start drinking as soon as your flight departs so you stay hydrated and your mouth and nose do not get dry.

That said, while there isn't much an airline can do about how your canned beverages taste, the industry tries to compensate for this change in how you experience food by making it saltier or sweeter so you will enjoy it. But that's not the only factor that impacts the taste of your soda. Apparently, the loud sound of the engines can affect your taste buds, making food less salty and sweet. Still, there are spices like lemon grass and cardamon that have a stronger taste when you are up in the wild blue yonder, so plan accordingly.