Umami Flavors Fly High

British Airways menus powered with the fifth taste serve food high in flavor and lower in salt and sugar


With the goal of making bland airline meals a thing of the past, the culinary team at British Airways Height Cuisine turned to Chef Heston Blumenthal to help them tackle the challenge of serving great-tasting food at 35,000 feet. In his show “Heston’s Mission Impossible” Blumentahl explored why so many foods loose flavor at altitude. He then set about developing techniques to solve the problem. Blumenthal suggests that the key to creating flavorful airline menus can be found in the ability to harness the powers of umami-rich ingredients.

The word umami may seem to have popped up recently, but according to Tim Hanni of the Napa Seasoning Company, this particular taste “was dubbed umami, a vernacular word for ‘good’ in Japanese, by Dr. Ikeda in the early 20th century, who formally presented research in 1908 that umami was a separate, primary taste.” Hanni, also known as the Swami of Umami explains, “The umami taste sensation is triggered by natural glutamate that is found in a vast array of foods: meats, poultry, seafood, dairy/cheeses, vegetables and fruits. Umami is amplified significantly when compounds called nucleotides, associated with fermentation and ripening, are added to the mix.” After much research and exploration of the power of umami, Hanni created his own product, Vignon, an all-natural, all-purpose seasoning made with sea salt and over 20 ‘micro ingredients’ that makes everything taste more flavorful and rich.


Umami flavors now power British Airways’ Height Cuisine menus. Mushrooms, shellfish, truffles, tomatoes and other umami-rich foods can be found in the Gate Gourmet kitchen. These techniques add power to the overall flavor profile of the food without needing to increase the amounts of salt and sugar. They are carefully prepared and sent up in the air to help make the experience of flying more enjoyable and delicious.

Sitting in Club World or World Traveler Plus class, looking down at a colorful plate of Caledonia blue shrimp with grilled artichoke, tomato petals and sherry truffle vinaigrette, or a Provencale vegetable lasagna with basil ricotta and creamy yellow tomato sauce, passengers now have a much better chance to taste the intended flavor of the food that has been carefully prepared and served with pride by the British Airways’ cabin crew.