Flying decreases the sense of taste by 30%.
The mouth’s sensitivity to salt, sweet, spicy, is altered in the pressurised cabin.
Poh Ling Yeow, the Masterchef series 1 runner-up, has just created a Nynoya chicken curry for Malaysia Airlines, says there are many variables to consider when making airline food.
And you would probably find the airline food too overpowering if tasted at a normal altitude.
Most airline catering facilities have a hyperbaric chamber, a pressurised room, so the chefs can taste their food in an atmosphere similar to that in an aircraft cabin.
Poh says she also has to take into account the logistical challenges in catering on mass.
“The food has to be quite robust because it is being handled quite a lot. Cooked, cooled down, reheated,” she says. “I thought a curry could handle that.”
Poh says most of these issues she leaves in the hands of the specialists, which include MAS executive chef Zahiddin Dris and his team.
“We picked it (the recipe) together in Malaysia, but he had it nutted out. They’re flavours that he’s familiar so I have trusted it in his hands.”
Brahim’s Airline Catering, Malaysia Airline’s in-flight catering company, serves 50,000 guests on 360 flights each day to more than 60 destinations, as well as catering for 32 other carriers which fly out of Kuala Lumpur. The facility is run with extreme precision and military timing.
Every type of meat is cut and prepared in a separate cool room. Every portion served is weighed, not only to ensure that each person is served the same size meal but also to ensure the cooking time is the same, and nothing is over or under cooked.
Once the airline’s signature satay sticks have been cooked to exactly 60 degrees they are immediately transported to a fridge where the temperature must be dropped to between 2-5 degrees, and done so in under 45 minutes, says Mohammad Zhahir, one of the airlines in-service executives. This “puts the bacteria to sleep,” he says.
All trays must then be prepared and in their trolley in the fridge ready to serve 12 hours before the departure of the plane.
Dry ice is put on the top and bottom of the cart.
Up to 26,000 skewers are made each day, using 200 litres of satay sauce.
Executive sous chef Fakhrul Aliff, who handles the menu planning for Malaysian Airlines, says the biggest challenges is ensuring the food remains consistent, keeping the complexity of a dish at a level which the workers can replicate and adapting the menus according to the passengers who will be eating the food.
All passengers are different
In the past, Australian passengers opt for the English breakfast or the plainer options on the menu, but Aliff says “the Australia taste profile is changing … they now enjoy eating the Asian food”.
“Australians like to taste unique items and discover new things,” he told Business Insider.
“Standard recipes are made after passenger profiles have been created,” which Aliff says ensures a trained calculation of the saltiness, sweetness and spiceness.
According to the airline caterers, Australians are very particular about what they want from their in-flight food service.
Judging by what is left on their plate, or often requested, the caterers found that Australian first meat preference is chicken followed by lamb and then fish.
Australians will also choose a foreign cuisine, such as Nasi Lemak or fish curry, over an English meal but definitely do not like food which is too spicy.
Australians also often request fresh fruit and won’t use long-life milk if it’s provided – it has to be fresh.
The one very important note of the caterer’s passenger profile of Australians is that they like a drink.
On flights to and from Australia, the caterers ensure there’s extra beer and wine on board.
*The writer was a guest on a trip from Sydney to Kuala Lumpur with Malaysia Airlines.
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