Science Knows Why You Crave Bloody Marys on Airplanes

That craving for tomato juice or a Bloody Mary that comes over you in airplanes, as perhaps nowhere else? Blame the roar of the engines.
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Photo by: Bob Ingelhart ©Bob Ingelhart

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That craving for tomato juice or a Bloody Mary that comes over you in airplanes, as perhaps nowhere else? Blame the roar of the engines.

Cornell University food scientists say airplane noise, which tends to hover around 85 decibels, can affect travelers' taste buds — suppressing their taste for sweet stuff and boosting the taste of umami-rich foods like tomato juice.

The study, published online in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance, “confirmed that in an environment of loud noise, our sense of taste is compromised,” Cornell assistant professor Robin Dando told the Cornell Chronicle. “Interestingly, this was specific to sweet and umami tastes, with sweet taste inhibited and umami taste significantly enhanced. The multisensory properties of the environment where we consume our food can alter our perception of the foods we eat.”

Dando and co-author Kimberly Yan were not the first to notice passengers’ midflight yen for umami. The German airline Lufthansa, after observing that tomato juice was flying off beverage carts as fast as beer, commissioned a private study last fall; it indicated that cabin pressure boosted perceptions of the taste of tomato juice.

The studies may compel a reconsideration of airline menus, with more umami flavors on offer and fewer sweets. Anything that improves airplane food can be for only the greater collective good, right?

And of course you don’t have to be a mile high to enjoy a Bloody Mary. Here are four recipes to enjoy even if you’re just hanging around on solid ground:

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