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Why Tomato Juice Tastes Better On An Airplane

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Dec 18, 2014

Flying at 30,000 feet changes a lot of things. Puffy coats become stand-ins for neck pillows, SkyMall catalogs start to look appealing, and drinks normally reserved for weekend brunches are suddenly the most appetizing option on the beverage cart.

Employees of the German airline Lufthansa realized that they were selling nearly as much tomato juice as beer, which was their most popular beverage. Tomato juice isn’t normally a popular beverage (outside of all-you-can-drink brunch menus), but Lufthansa was selling more than 53,000 gallons of the vegetable juice on flights each year.

Curious to discover why tomato juice was so popular at 35,000 feet above earth, Lufthansa researchers set up a series of experiments to learn how altitudes affect human taste preferences. It turns out that our sense of taste is actually dulled by airplane noise and cabin pressure. That's why, as WHYY's Steven Jackson explained in a recent feature, "most airplane food tastes bland, and tomato juice actually tastes better."

Consequently, snacks and drinks with strong flavors -- like tomato juice -- sell especially well on airplanes. At high altitudes, tomato juice "shows more acidity, has some mineralic tastes and is very refreshing," Ernst Derenthal, a catering executive at Lufthansa, told WHYY.

If you're looking for something to eat with that makeshift high-altitude Bloody Mary (one part vodka from a tiny bottle; two parts V8), Dan has a video full of tips for making the most of airplane meals, including saucing dry dishes, upping the crunch factor, and finding meals with the most spice variation.

Elite Truong is a snack maker and support manager at Eater.com. She spends her time collecting uni-tasking kitchen appliances and learning to code. Follow her on Twitter @EliteTruong.

Photo: Flickr CC / Breville USA

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