Skift Take

Quite a gimmick, but it doesn't sound too bad.

After figuring out how to best put us to sleep, British Airways has put science to work on improving the in-flight experience once again–this time targeting our taste buds.

Research by Charles Spence, professor of experimental psychology at Oxford University, demonstrated that it is possible to trick the taste buds with a tune. By identifying music that appeals in just the right way to the brain, the palate can be fooled into finding flavors more flavorful, without having to pile-on exotic ingredients, such as salt and sugar.

This is the new science of Sonic Seasoning, which British Airways has employed to improve in-flight Dinning at 35,000ft.

Professor Spence carried out his first experiments on the relationship between sound and taste at Heston Blumenthal’s award-winning Fat Duck restaurant. He used a single trombone note for bitter, mixed with the rumble of car traffic through a tunnel, as you do, and the reverb of a grand piano for sweetness. Playing an assortment of musical combinations, Spence’s experiment revealed, cooks can dial certain ingredients down a notch while still ramping up flavor.

In the aircraft cabin, where tastebuds are already known to be affected by cabin conditions, the science of Sonic Seasoning is especially dandy. British Airways hopes it provides the cure to our flight-dulled tastebuds.

“Your ability to taste is reduced by 30 per cent in the air, so we do everything we can to counteract this,” says Mark Tazzioli, British Airways’ chef, “The sonic seasoning research is fascinating, and our pairings should really help bring out the flavors.”

Sonic Seasoning is reported to improve the taste of wine as well, resolving a long-standing problem with passengers complaining of the quality of the vintage, when all this while it’s been the quality of cabin noise to blame. In case you’re wondering, the Pretenders make red wine taste better, but you’ll have to fly more than one-thousand miles to try it for yourself.

Lilly Allen and Coldplay make traditional British fare tastier, apparently. Trust Louis Armstrong with you savory dishes and Debussy with hearty fare. For espresso, forget the Italian tenors. Placido Domingo is your man.

There are, in fact, many tunes for many flavors. British Airways has put together a unique ‘Sound Bite’ 13-track playlist, expressly for customers dining at the highest restaurants between towns.

“In the coming months and years we are going to see far more interest in the matching of music and soundscape to what we eat and drink,” says Professor Spence. “I think that it is a really exciting and innovative development to see British Airways taking the first steps in this direction.”

Based on the Nutmeg Professor’s study, British Airways’ passengers can tune-in a playlist, compiled by the airline’s in-flight specialists Spafax, on the airline’s ‘Rock and Pop’ audio channel.

Here’s the menu of sonic dishes destined to rock your world onboard your next British Airways flight:

Track Artist and song Dining option Findings from the study
1 Paolo Nutini, “Scream (Funk My Life Up)” Scottish salmon starter Scottish musicians can enhance the providence of Scottish foods
2 Anthony and the Johnsons, “Crazy in Love” Savoury starter Low tones complement savoury starters
3 Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington, “Azalea” Savoury starter Low tones complement savoury starters
4 Johnny Marr, “New Town Velocity” Full English breakfast (early morning flights) British music should be paired with British food
5 Lily Allen, “Somewhere Only We Know” Main meal, British classic Piano notes can enhance the sensation of sweet and bitter tastes. British music should also be paired with British food
6 Coldplay, “A Sky Full of Stars” Main meal, British classic British music should be paired with British food
7 Debussy, “Claire De Lune” Main meal/ roast dinners Classical music is suitable for meals such as Sunday lunch. Piano notes can also enhance he sensation of sweet and bitter tastes
8 James Blunt, “You’re Beautiful” Dessert High-tones boost sweet flavours
9 Madonna, “Ray of Light” Dessert High-tones boost sweet flavours
10 Otis Redding, “The Dock of the Bay” After-dinner chocolate Low tones can bring out the bitterness in chocolate
11 The Pretenders, “Back on the Chain Gang” Red wine Rock music can enhance depth of flavour, making red wine appear more ‘heavy’
12 Hope/BBC Symphony Orchestra/Shostakovich, “Romance from the Gadfly, Op.97” White wine Classical music can enhance the overall experience and perceptions of quality when paired with wine
13 Plácido Domingo, “Nessun Dorma from Turandot” Coffee Tenors low tones are suited to the bitterness of coffee
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Tags: amenities, british airways, food and drink, in-flight

Photo credit: Sonic Seasoning on British Airways, based on study at Oxford University. Nick Morrish / British Airways

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