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What should you drink on aeroplanes?

It is well-documented that passengers experience a subdued sense of taste when flying, but there is one cocktail that won’t be comprised when you’re up in the air, according to scientific research.

There are several factors that can dull our perception of flavours on planes: the pressure change, the dryness of the air and the noise of the engines.

This can present a challenge for airlines when developing their onboard drinks offerings. In December last year, British Airways appointed its first full-time Master of Wine, Tim Jackson MW, to do precisely that.

But there is significant scientific evidence to suggest that the ideal thing to sip on a plane is not wine, beer or soda, but tomato juice.

A 2015 study from Robin Dando, a professor of food science at Cornell, revealed that umami-rich ingredients, such as tomato juice, which is high in glutamates, fare well on flights: “Our study confirmed that in an environment of loud noise, our sense of taste is compromised. Interestingly, this was specific to sweet and umami tastes, with sweet taste inhibited and umami taste significantly enhanced.”

The result of this “novel sensory interaction” is tomato juice that has less tanginess and a richer, more velvety quality.

Indeed, it seems that passengers have already picked up on its potential. Some year’s before Dando’s study, Lufthansa undertook similar research after it noticed that it was selling approximately 53,000 gallons of tomato juice each year, just shy of the 59,000 gallons of beer it sold annually. In 2018, United Airlines made a u-turn after customers kicked off about tomato juice being dropped as part of the “streamlining” of its short-haul flights drinks list.

Though the research did not cite any particular cocktails as perfect for air travel, enjoyment of a tomato juice-based drink, such as a Bloody Mary (or Virgin Mary, if without vodka), would be boosted by altitude. Plus, the traditional addition of Worcestershire Sauce, also packed with umami, will only further elevate the experience. If you wish to add some of the lost tang back, a few extra dashes of Tabasco should do the trick.

Related reading:

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