It isn’t always easy adjusting to life at 30,000 feet—and your taste buds have a tough time with the transition, too. Eating on an airplane affects your sensitivity to taste, suggests new research from Cornell University.
In a study, people wore headphones that piped in simulated airplane-level noise at 80 to 85 decibels—similar to the racket of heavy city traffic. When the participants noshed on something sugary while listening, the noise level diluted their perception of sweetness.
But when they snacked on something savory, they experienced that taste more intensely.
Here’s why: Jarring acoustics can cause your “chorda tympani” nerve—which carries info about taste from the front of your tongue to your brainstem—to experience turbulence relaying those messages.
And because this nerve sits so close to your eardrum, the vibration from loud noises ringing in your ears could interfere with how your brain perceives certain tastes, says study author Robin Dando, Ph.D.
So your brain’s misperception of sweetness could lead you to indulge in sugary snacks when you’re stuck in a loud place—like an airplane or a stadium of screaming fans—because your taste buds aren’t able to properly tell your brain that you’re satisfied.
Before you steal your in-flight neighbor’s cookie, you might want to opt for something savory instead, like a cheese plate or sandwich.
“Different tastes may be encoded differently as they travel to the brain,” says Dando. Since savory flavors are heightened as decibels increase, ordering these kinds of foods may better curb your hunger in booming environments.
When there are breaks in loud noise, your taste perception should reset back to normal, says Dando.