The Foodie Report feature


Better at 35,000ft

Food bought at the airport to take onboard might not taste as good as hoped because of the body’s reduced ability to perceive flavours when flying. Enter the Sky High Sandwich – scientifically created to taste better in the air.

Many airlines have withdrawn complimentary meals on flights in recent years, leading to an increase in passengers who are looking for new taste experiences to purchase on the ground to take onboard with them.

With the quality, variety and reputation of airport restaurants growing around the world, that consumer market should be relatively easy to cater for. But there is a major sticking point – the human body’s reduced ability to perceive flavours when flying.

This unfortunate reality means that what might taste delicious on the ground could prove to be disappointing when consumed in the air. It is little wonder airline food has had a less than stellar reputation over the years.

Professor Smith: “Foods rich in umami provide depth of flavour and boost other basic tastes like salt, sweet and sour.”

Food expert Professor Barry C. Smith, Director of the Centre of the Study of the Senses at the University of London, could have the solution – a sandwich that is specifically designed to taste better in the air.

London Stansted Airport and luxury food outlet Not Always Caviar have teamed up with Professor Smith to create the Sky High Sandwich, which is based on scientific food research into the body’s reduced ability to perceive flavours when flying.

The sandwich puts umami-rich ingredients at its core – with umami being the fifth taste after sweet, sour, salty and bitter. “Punchy” flavours that trigger key receptors in the mouth are key. The sandwich also uses a special blended umami seasoning, which Stansted says will provide passengers with a “premium inflight taste experience”.

“[We have harnessed] science to create something unique for our guests that tastes great on the ground and even better up in the air.”

– London Stansted Airport Chief Commercial Officer Aboudy Nasser

The Sky High sandwiches include a special umami blend spice, which is added as a powder.

Indeed, the Sky High Sandwich gives passengers access to the same food science that has been employed by some of the world’s premium airlines for the benefit of their business class passengers.

“Science shows that the combination of dry air and low pressure during flights reduces our sensitivity to food aromas,” explains Professor Smith.

“Additionally, the sound of white noise at 80 decibels or above has an impact on the brain’s ability to perceive sweet, salt and sour from the tongue – reducing its intensity by about 10-15%. In an aircraft cabin you are subjected to white noise of around 89 decibels. This will greatly reduce the flavours we can taste whilst flying.

The Signature Seafood Club sandwich includes Scottish smoked salmon, salmon tartare, shrimp and guacamole-style avocado with lemon and chilli flakes.

“Foods rich in umami provide depth of flavour and boost other basic tastes like salt, sweet and sour. Umami is also immune to the effects of white noise on our perception of taste. Another way of boosting flavour mid-flight – where the altitude and white noise levels are high – is to combine different types of umami rich foods, creating synergistic umami.

“This occurs when foods with naturally occurring glutamates are combined with others that contain nucleotides. Foods that combine these ingredients will produce a product that’s packed with flavour – even at 35,000ft.”

The sandwiches are being sold exclusively at the Not Always Caviar café at Stansted, and are available as a Signature Seafood Club sandwich (with optional caviar sauce) or a Salt Beef Deli sandwich.

The Salt Beef Deli sandwich contains salt beef finely chopped and mixed in with mayonnaise and mustard, cheddar cheese, sliced cornichons/gherkins and spinach leaves, served in a diamond roll.

Both sandwiches include a special umami blend spice ingredient. They are priced at £9.95/US$13.14 (or £11.95/US$15.78 with optional caviar sauce) and £8.50/US$11.23 respectively.

London Stansted says it has become the world’s first airport to launch a sandwich in partnership with a leading food expert. For Chief Commercial Officer Aboudy Nasser, the project is about finding ways to improve the customer experience and ensuring passengers are able to enjoy the airport’s food & beverage offering whilst onboard.

The result is a “culinary experience like no other”, he concludes. “The Sky High Sandwich is part of our mission to innovate, by harnessing science to create something unique for our guests that tastes great on the ground and even better up in the air.”

“The combination of dry air and low pressure during flights reduces our sensitivity to food aromas.”

– Professor Barry Smith, Director of the Centre of the Study of the Senses at the University of London

The Sky High Sandwich is based on the same food science that has been employed by some of the world’s premium airlines for the benefit of their business class passengers.

The science behind the Sky High Sandwich

The sandwich is available as a Signature Seafood Club with Scottish smoked salmon, salmon tartare, shrimp and guacamole-style avocado with lemon and chilli flakes, beef tomato and spinach leaves served on granary bread – with an option of caviar sauce.

Chilli stimulates the trigeminal nerve, which allows us to detect spice and is unaffected at altitude, Stansted Airport says. Tomato paired with seafood produces ‘synergistic umami’, creating a more intense flavour. Lemon also boosts flavour at altitude with its brightening acidity. Granary bread and spinach leaves were chosen because textural contrasts are crucial when flavour is challenged, according to the airport.

The caviar sauce contains ketchup, mayonnaise, Worcestershire sauce and 5g of caviar. Worcestershire sauce contains classic umami flavouring such as anchovies (along with chilli and tamarind) and so does caviar, which combines synergistically with the savouriness of the beef tomato/ketchup to boost all of the flavours around it.

The Salt Beef Deli sandwich contains salt beef finely chopped and mixed in with mayonnaise and mustard (almost like a beef tartar), Cheddar cheese, sliced cornichons/gherkins, spinach leaves and a diamond roll.

The mustard adds a vibrant streak of acidity to this option – a tang of spice without being overpowering, Stansted notes. The trigeminal nerve that produces the tingle of spice in our mouths is not compromised at altitude. Finally, Cheddar cheese provides an added umami flavour to the sandwich.

Both sandwiches include a special umami blend spice which is added as a powder to provide an umami boost.


The Moodie Davitt eZine | Issue 258 | 26 March 2019