Lufthansa Examines Flavor in the Sky; Royal Caribbean Launches Epicurean Discovery Series


The Wall Street Journal ran a fascinating article yesterday on how Lufthansa has been testing fluctuations in the taste of food when diners are up, up, up in the air. Chefs from the airline’s LSG Sky Chefs, the largest in-flight catering company in the world, descended upon the tubular laboratory of the Fraunhofer Institute for Building Physics in Germany to test how salty, sweet, spicy, bitter, and sour flavors change during flights.

Utilizing a wingless portion of an Airbus 310, the technicians at the Institute were able to simulate a standard flight, including a change in pressure and a lack of moisture, in order to test flavors – and the results weren’t pretty, with participant perception of sweet and salty flavors dropping once at flying level, some up to 30%. It seems the dryness of cabin air – which “evaporates” nasal mucus, interfering with critical odor receptors – is to blame.

The question is, how can in-flight catering chefs adjust accordingly?

“There’s no simple rule, ‘Just add 20% more herbs and spices’—it really depends,” said [Florian Mayer, Head of Fraunhofer’s Department of Building Chemistry, Biology & Hygiene.]

Lufthansa’s house sommelier, Markus Del Monego, plans to use the test data in selecting in-flight wines as well, noting that cabin pressure also changes how wines are appreciated.

“On the ground, it’s a very opulent and powerful wine, but in the air, it tastes light—it’s the ideal airline wine,” he said during a recent tasting session. “Two people wouldn’t be able to split a bottle on the ground, but that could easily happen on an airplane.”

Lufthansa is not the first airline to test in-flight food flavors. Singapore Airlines invested in a similar low-pressure test kitchen in 2002 where dishes could be prepared and tested at altitude levels.

Cruise line Royal Caribbean recently announced their “Epicurean Discovery” cruise series that will feature a number of popular chefs from around the country. Each of the twelve voyages in the series will take place aboard the company’s Freedom of the Seas ship, and will run from September 2010 to February 2011, offering food fans “a unique educational endeavor led by gastronomic mavericks, including private dinners, a wine tasting, experiential lecture and private tour, as well as a tapas sampling reception, signed photo and cookbook.”

A few of the chefs participating in the series include 2010 James Beard Foundation Award winner Michael Schwartz, of Michael’s Genuine Food and Drink in Miami and Grand Cayman, as well as former Top Chef contestant Spike Mendelsohn and former Iron Chef competitor Johnny Vizcenez.

For a full list of the scheduled chefs in attendance, as well as further details on the cruises, check out the Royal Caribbean website.

~Jennifer Heigl