Maintaining an unwavering commitment to excellence, British Airways has gone to great lengths to develop a culinary program that serves delicious meals to passengers in all flight classes. To this end the airline has launched Height Cuisine, a program that takes into account the environmental factors of altitude, air pressure and humidity into the menu creation process. Chefs helm recipe development, working with experts from wine advisors to cheesemongers to develop delicious, well-balanced in-flight meals.
“At British Airways, we know that dining at altitude can have a dramatic impact on our senses,” says menu design manager Sinead Ferguson, describing the company’s culinary mission. “With the atmosphere being so dry in the pressurized cabin, the ability to smell and taste can be reduced by up to 30%. So Height Cuisine is basically the approach British Airways is taking to understand how we can provide great-tasting food and drink on board our flights.”
In order to develop the scientifically proven tastiest high-altitude menu, British Airways brought in UK company Leatherhead Food Research, and their team of 13 scientists. The team conducted a rigorous series of taste tests on board, assessing sweet, sour, bitter and savory flavors at various times throughout the flight. “Overall the sense of bitterness is heightened and it tends to be the more delicate foods that lose an amount of taste at altitudes,” says Ferguson about their findings. The scientists’ responses helped the Height Cuisine culinary team make informed decisions about new ways to approach creating in-flight menus.
Currently the summer offerings on British Airways World Traveler cabin include two choices that fly well. The citrus juices and spices in the Indian chicken tikka and the rich umami of tortellacci with tomato and olive have been chosen for their ability to stand up to flavor-inhibiting altitude. On the First Class flight from JFK a slow roasted veal loin is served with a Périgueux sauce made with Madeira and truffles, capitalizing on umami to boost flavor.
British Airways shares an at-home experiment on their Facebook page to recreate the loss of flavor levels in flight. “Pat your tongue as dry as possible with a clean paper towel. Now dab some salt or sugar on to your tongue.” Moisture and saliva contribute to the ability to experience flavor and because the loss of humidity in-flight dries out the mouth, one’s sense of taste—and smell—are affected. Developing recipes that compensate for such factors provide the backbone of the Height Cuisine program.
The lackluster quality of airline food has become a common party joke, so it’s reassuring to know that a team of experts is working diligently to get to the scientific root of the problem. Plus, with 18 special meal options for dietary restrictions from gluten-intolerant to vegan, vegetarian and Kosher, the chefs at British Airways also work to created flavorful menus for passengers with special food requests. The achievement of excellent service lies at the core of the British Airways mission, and if the culinary team has its way, delicious food won’t be a mission impossible.