July 30, 2010

Lufthansa tests tastes at 35,000 feet

Airlines meals aim to offer tasty treats to their passengers, but have long struggled with the effects that low humidity and high altitude have on the taste buds. Lufthansa is facing the challenge head-on in one of the largest low-pressure chambers in the world, the tubular laboratory at Germany’s Fraunhofer Institute for Building Physics.

Image courtesy of saechang on Flickr

They have created a simulation aircraft in this cow pasture, equipped with fake cabin pressure, turbulence, and just about every other condition to make you feel like you’re actually at 35,000 feet (including air filters to weed out the potentially-noxious scents of their four-legged neighbors). In this environment, they are able to test how different flavors taste in the air. Their findings show that salts and sugars get dulled at 35,000, while spices tend to hold their flavor. They also discovered that wines with higher alcohol content test better and have lesser affect than if consumed on the ground; the dryness of the air in the cabin makes normal full-bodied wine taste bland.

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