The winner: Korean Air. By a lot. ANA, whose food is pictured above, gets an honorable mention not only because it came in second, but also because of the passion it seems to inspire, which is not something one normally associates with in-flight dining. This is also probably why I was able to easily find a picture of it.
A number of people said that, in general, Asian airlines tend to have better food. But maybe Asian foods just taste better at altitude:
The combination of dryness and low pressure reduces the sensitivity of your taste buds to sweet and salty foods by around 30%, according to a 2010 study conducted by Germany’s Fraunhofer Institute for Building Physics, commissioned by German airline Lufthansa.
Interestingly, the study found that we take leave of our sweet and salty senses only. Sour, bitter and spicy flavours are almost unaffected.
So airlines have to give in-flight food an extra kick, by salting and spicing it much more than a restaurant on the ground ever would. “Proper seasoning is key to ensure food tastes good in the air,” says Brown at American Airlines. “Often, recipes are modified with additional salt or seasoning to account for the cabin dining atmosphere.”
Gerry McLoughlin, executive chef at rival US airline United, says he has to use “vibrant flavours and spices” to make in-flight meals taste “more robust”.
Many Asian cuisines include flavor profiles that one could describe as vibrant. Maybe the prominent use of garlic, soy sauce, and chili peppers in Korean food make it particularly well-suited to being served in the sky.
The article notes that umami flavors also fare well on airplanes, and, well, the word itself is Japanese, so that might explain Japanese airline ANA’s strong showing in the poll.