British Airways ad in Wine Spectator

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British Airways ad in Wine Spectator

Postby Jon Peterson » Sun Jun 17, 2012 9:46 am

In a British Airways ad in the June 30th Wine Spectator, there's a statement that one's taste buds react differently to food and drink at 30,000 feet than they do on the ground. While physiology can be amazing, I find this hard to believe. Does anyone have any experience with this? (Maybe this is why airline food has such a bad reputation???)
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Re: British Airways ad in Wine Spectator

Postby Shaji M » Sun Jun 17, 2012 9:55 am

Jon,
Interestingly a few days ago, NPR ran a similar article. Might be some truth to it.
http://www.npr.org/2012/06/06/154408053 ... ste-so-bad
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Re: British Airways ad in Wine Spectator

Postby Ian Sutton » Sun Jun 17, 2012 11:59 am

Michael Broadbent (ex BA tasting panel) wrote about it a few years ago, either in Decanter, or in his tasting note tome.
On top of the atmospheric differences, there's also the issue of being tired and frazzled from the never-ending journey ... through the airport to the plane :evil:
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Re: British Airways ad in Wine Spectator

Postby Peter May » Sun Jun 17, 2012 2:10 pm

Haven't seen the ad (natch) but I thought this was common knowledge.

Don't know if they still do, but BA used to do their wine tasting for on board selections in a spare jumbo circling around...

As I recall HRH was one of the panel and I remember reading an article by her about it.


Airline food is a different matter - hard to make anything that's been cooked, chilled and then warmed up tasty, especially when they try to make it gourmet. A stew, coq au vin etc can work but not i.m.o the fancy stuff that reads great on menus ....
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Re: British Airways ad in Wine Spectator

Postby Ian Sutton » Sun Jun 17, 2012 3:21 pm

Peter
I'll disagree with you (partially). BA have yet to make anything tasty on the flights I've taken with them - and a indeed they served a cooked breakfast that's amongst the foulest food I've ever been served.

On the other hand, I've had some wonderful food flying with asian carriers (e.g. Royal Brunei, Emirates, Malaysian, etc.). Food that I'd be very happy to eat in a restaurant.

I recall also, discussing BA food with a room-mate in a Youth Hostel in Sydney. He'd just resigned from his 'chef' job making food for BA in England, as he just couldn't stomach doing what he was having to produce.

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Re: British Airways ad in Wine Spectator

Postby Lou Kessler » Sun Jun 17, 2012 4:34 pm

Ian Sutton wrote:Peter
I'll disagree with you (partially). BA have yet to make anything tasty on the flights I've taken with them - and a indeed they served a cooked breakfast that's amongst the foulest food I've ever been served.

On the other hand, I've had some wonderful food flying with asian carriers (e.g. Royal Brunei, Emirates, Malaysian, etc.). Food that I'd be very happy to eat in a restaurant.

I recall also, discussing BA food with a room-mate in a Youth Hostel in Sydney. He'd just resigned from his 'chef' job making food for BA in England, as he just couldn't stomach doing what he was having to produce.

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I've only flown Singapore airlines among the Asian carriers but the food was better than any other airline I've flown. The whole experience on Singapore is better than any of the American or European airlines I'v used.
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Re: British Airways ad in Wine Spectator

Postby Max Hauser » Sun Jun 17, 2012 7:15 pm

Singapore Airlines is quite legendary around here for its service, which I haven't (alas) experienced yet.

Ian Sutton wrote:BA have yet to make anything tasty on the flights I've taken with them

Sorry to hear that. I've experienced some very decent food, and particularly wine selection, on BA the past 15-20 years (note inseparable context to follow) -- this is from someone rather food-obsessed (as some regulars here could attest), and expecting little from airline food.

The context is that most of my long-haul flying has been nonstop Pacific-coast US to Europe on BA or European carriers (i.e. 9-11 hour flights) in elevated service classes (not coach), whether via business, frequent-flyer miles, or "fill-forward" gratis upgrades. Even then I sometimes brought food; this was a particular ritual when flying from BA's long-haul terminal (Heathrow 4) whose concourse included pricey but extremely diverse and share-able picnic goods at shops like Caviar House (blister-packed smoked salmon with dill, peppercorns, mustard sauce, etc.; sundry pâtés and meat preparations with or without truffles, real ones, not T. aestivum or other latter-day junk; and TWO competing single-malt shops which alas merged around the end of the 90s, but earlier a charming Australian woman supervised a large barrel-top table at one of them and offered tastes from dozens of wholesalers' sample bottles left out on the barrel).

Once flying back from a food-focused trip, surrounded on the plane by A**le-C*mp*t*r employees (during one of that firm's long stagnant periods), who were returning to silicon valley and boasting to each other about their stock options, I told the steward I was a student of food, and was there anything unusual at all? He perked up and loudly described a novel Scots ethnic special, only two servings boarded - haggis, some other offal specialty I forget, and blood pudding. I requested it with interest, and although it was all fairly bland, albeit with a rich range of sweet spices as in Mrs Beeton's day, still the muttering from the visibly appalled silicon-valley contingent added satisfaction to the meal, finished (naturally enough) with spotted dick (whose announcement induced new horror -- it was at least then a dish almost unknown in the US).

The best food I had on European long-haul carriers was on Lufthansa, but Air France and BA were also consistently decent and again BA seemed to pay remarkable attention to its wines.
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Re: British Airways ad in Wine Spectator

Postby Ian Sutton » Sun Jun 17, 2012 7:22 pm

Max
I almost mentioned... my comments related to cattle class on all journeys / with all carriers, as I've never flown anything else. I understand that the higher classes at BA are a noticeable step up, and in their day, the wine selection used to be very fine.
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Re: British Airways ad in Wine Spectator

Postby Max Hauser » Sun Jun 17, 2012 7:57 pm

In US coach class I learned 25 years ago from a very frequent business traveler (who explained that they're cooked up separately and often with more care) the wisdom of always requesting "special" meals (low-sodium was often tasty -- we all eat far too much sodium anyway). Later some inexpensive US domestic flights even eliminated meals altogether (as if you didn't aready have incentive to bring your own food!).

But I'll observe that elevated service classes, while pleasant enough for US domestic (1 to 5 hour) flights, make a FAR bigger difference on long-haul flights, both in amenities and overall stress. After instructive experiences doing overseas business travel in both coach class and elevated classes, I stopped wasting any frequent-flyer award points on upgrading domestic travel from coach, saving them for the long flights. Another revelation was not to break up long flights (like stopping in Chicago when flying from Pacific coast to Europe) -- not only does the up-and-down and ground time greatly increase total travel duration, but those routes also fly farther south, less directly, increasing the time in flight.
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Re: British Airways ad in Wine Spectator

Postby Mark Lipton » Mon Jun 18, 2012 12:38 am

Ian Sutton wrote:Max
I almost mentioned... my comments related to cattle class on all journeys / with all carriers, as I've never flown anything else. I understand that the higher classes at BA are a noticeable step up, and in their day, the wine selection used to be very fine.
regards


Ian,
Having once been bumped into Business Class by BA, I can attest to the better fare available there, not least of which was the postprandial Cognac offered gratis :D Singapore Airlines do indeed stand head and shoulders above any other carrier I've flown (haven't tried many of those other names, though) for the food offered, as well as nearly every other aspect of the service.

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Re: British Airways ad in Wine Spectator

Postby Frank Deis » Mon Jun 18, 2012 12:54 am

Don't know how relevant it is -- but on one of our flights to Paris on Air India, we somehow got upgraded and seated in the "top cabin" of a 747. The seating was spacious and the food was surprisingly good. Don't know how it was for the regular customers -- and don't know if it's changed, since that has to be about 10 years ago.
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Re: British Airways ad in Wine Spectator

Postby Jeff Grossman/NYC » Mon Jun 18, 2012 1:45 am

On our last long flights (with BA) my partner and I learned a new trick: if you are in one of the better classes you can eat your meal on the ground, in the relatively peaceful environs of the BA lounge, then just get on the plane and go to sleep. This was a marked improvement -- actual chairs and table and adult-sized silverware AND more nap time.
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Re: British Airways ad in Wine Spectator

Postby Jon Peterson » Mon Jun 18, 2012 10:31 am

Jeff Grossman/NYC wrote:On our last long flights (with BA) my partner and I learned a new trick: if you are in one of the better classes you can eat your meal on the ground, in the relatively peaceful environs of the BA lounge, then just get on the plane and go to sleep. This was a marked improvement -- actual chairs and table and adult-sized silverware AND more nap time.


That's good to know!
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Re: British Airways ad in Wine Spectator

Postby Carl Eppig » Mon Jun 18, 2012 11:38 am

This could be one of those subjects that the more people talk about it the more people believe it. For example people assume that Chinese food has MSG in it since so much has been written about it. They don't go to Chinese restaurants because of this, even though many purveyers advertise that they don't use it. On a Cooking/Food Channel show they sat down a room full of people and fed half of them Chinese food with MSG and half without. Many people on the "without" side said they tasted MSG in their food!
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Re: British Airways ad in Wine Spectator

Postby Max Hauser » Mon Jun 18, 2012 1:12 pm

Carl, your point on self-sustaining myths like MSG "sensitivity" (which conceivably surpasses high-fructose corn syrup, organic farming, and radio-emitter "radiations" combined, for fashionable misinformation) could fill dedicated websites. MSG does fill scientific references, summed up by Nathan Myhrvold et al. (quoted in Wikipedia when I retrieved it):

What makes the case so puzzling is that extensive research has yet to identify a test subject who can reliably distinguish food with or without MSG in a double-blind study. [...] That is true even for studies that have focused exclusively on people who claim to have MSG sensitivity. Alas, the bottom line is that science has found no health effects due to MSG consumption at the levels in which it is present in food. [Comment: A person with special sensitivity to glutamates would also present the same symptoms, of course, when unwittingly consuming foods naturally high in them, such as cheeses, grape juice, or peas. Glutamate is in all of us anyway as an amino acid, and a component of the vital nutrient PGA or "Folic Acid." -- MH]

Jeff Grossman/NYC wrote:[On BA] if you are in one of the better classes you can eat your meal on the ground, in the relatively peaceful environs of the BA lounge.

Yes (I omitted that above among BA food rituals!) and it is useful when changing planes in Heathrow. BA offers basically snacks and light meals in those transit lounges. Until some cost-cutting (paralleling other Heathrow retrenchments) post 9/11), those BA lounges paid singular attention to their little sandwiches and other finger foods, offered with an array of beverages including multiple Champagnes. This is different, more casual fare from that on long-haul flights, but if you pace yourself you can enjoy both, ahem.

Another trivia point picked up from the purser managing First Class section on a Euro-carrier (BA I think): This employee remarked that essentially no one pays the actual, celestial, fare for first class. Generally they're either redeeming frequent-flyer rewards, or they were on a business-class ticket and got bumped forward (which happened to me sometimes). On popular flights for business travelers, the airline can much more easily sell a vacant business seat than first-class.
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Re: British Airways ad in Wine Spectator

Postby Frank Deis » Mon Jun 18, 2012 1:30 pm

MSG sensitivity is something I have a huge amount of trouble believing. Not only is Glutamate naturally present in Folic Acid as Max said, but the "umami" flavor of cooked meat IS free glutamate. Glutamate is one of the 20 amino acids present in just about every protein. When you cook meat, you hydrolyze the polymer and release the free amino acids. And that is what you taste. If you think of the taste of sushi or sashimi, without soy sauce it is a mild sweet flavor. We dunk it in soy sauce because soy sauce once again is hydrolyzed protein (from plant protein) and has that same umami flavor. One of the courses at Manresa also illustrated this. There was a rectangular piece of rare lamb, which had the texture of rare meat but not much flavor. And beside it there were some little "raisin" looking things that, when you ate them, turned out to be powerfully flavored braised lamb. An explosion of cooked lamb flavor!

Furthermore, I think it is fascinating that glutamate (always mono-sodium glutamate at neutral pH) is a neurotransmitter in the brain, and specifically works on the memory receptors (NMDA). That is part of what "Chinese restaurant syndrome" is about -- that's real and I have had it once or twice, you overdose on soy sauce and your brain gets a little weird. At any rate when you REMEMBER the taste of roast beef, the receptors in your brain that help you remember are closely related to the receptors on your tongue that allow you to taste it! (Of course they also help you remember all other smells and tastes and everything else).
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Re: British Airways ad in Wine Spectator

Postby Max Hauser » Mon Jun 18, 2012 2:25 pm

Frank, the historic term "Chinese Restaurant Syndrome" is now fairly notorious, it was a speculation by a physician, published in a letter (1968 IIRC), hoping to explain effects people now self-diagnose as "MSG sensitivity" (and consistently fail to demonstrate objectively) -- so I beg you to use a different term for specific neurotransmitter effects.

Other complications: 1. Stubborn self-diagnosis of MSG as cause of this or that symptom has masked real food sensitivities, this seems especially true in some Chinese cooking that relies on bean pastes. Those do contain glutamates (and guanylates and inosinates, other common natural umami agents) but they also have beans, to which there are very real sensitivities in the population (peanuts being the best-known). With anything as complex as food, the burden of proving that a specific causal component caused an observed side effect resides with the diagnostician.

2. Natural sources in food (like roast meats or fermented foods) can give more dietary glutamate than soy sauce or an MSG-happy cook, implying illogic in singling out Chinese restaurants. (History: natural MSG from Kombu seaweed was used for centuries in Japan as a flavor and broth enhancer before Ajinomoto extracted it commercially 105 years ago. Come to think of it, many ingredients routinely flavoring soup broths worldwide -- mushrooms, seaweed, fish flakes, meat bones -- are basically umami sources.)

3. Atop many hundred (sometimes allergenic) natural chemical constituents of restaurant foods comes an avalanche of sodium, which may produce most true MSG-attributable morbidity in a final accounting. Hardly the only case of a useful food ion coming attached to sodium for mainly production-cost reasons (how many people know that baking powder and "soda" began with potassium from wood ash?) We are evolved to need more potassium than sodium by say 20:1, yet many people now get more sodium than potassium. (I'm curious why the craving. My hypothesis is that because potassium is ubiquitous in natural foods and sodium isn't, it was an essential mineral we evolved to seek out. But please no more on that in this thread, already derailed!)
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Re: British Airways ad in Wine Spectator

Postby Jeff Grossman/NYC » Mon Jun 18, 2012 2:30 pm

Max Hauser wrote:
Jeff Grossman/NYC wrote:[On BA] if you are in one of the better classes you can eat your meal on the ground, in the relatively peaceful environs of the BA lounge.

Yes (I omitted that above among BA food rituals!) and it is useful when changing planes in Heathrow. BA offers basically snacks and light meals in those transit lounges.

That is true but that is not what I am discussing. You can get full-fledged meals in a BA dining room, and they track your attendance so that they do not serve you again on the plane.
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Re: British Airways ad in Wine Spectator

Postby Max Hauser » Mon Jun 18, 2012 2:37 pm

Thanks for clarifying, Jeff, I did not know that.

Do you happen to have any idea how long this has been available?
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Re: British Airways ad in Wine Spectator

Postby Jeff Grossman/NYC » Mon Jun 18, 2012 4:51 pm

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Re: British Airways ad in Wine Spectator

Postby Mark Lipton » Mon Jun 18, 2012 10:38 pm

Max Hauser wrote:Other complications: 1. Stubborn self-diagnosis of MSG as cause of this or that symptom has masked real food sensitivities, this seems especially true in some Chinese cooking that relies on [b]bean pastes.

2. Natural sources in food (like roast meats or fermented foods) can give more dietary glutamate than soy sauce or an MSG-happy cook, implying illogic in singling out Chinese restaurants.

3. Atop many hundred (sometimes allergenic) natural chemical constituents of restaurant foods comes an avalanche of sodium, which may produce most true MSG-attributable morbidity in a final accounting.


I am struck by the parallels between MSG hysteria in food consumption and SO2 "sensitivity" in wine consumption. I've lost count of the number of people claiming an SO2 allergy to red wine but who eat dried apricots without incident! :shock:

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Re: British Airways ad in Wine Spectator

Postby Frank Deis » Tue Jun 19, 2012 8:05 pm

Hmm, interesting. While I have always been certain that people who claim to react to the slightest taste of MSG are just imagining things, and I am quite sure that small to moderate amounts have no effect on me or probably on anybody, the one vivid experience that I remember probably can't have anything to do with bean paste.

My father retired in 1972 and started taking my mother on trips. Because Newark was not yet an international airport, they would drive up from Virginia and visit us and then we would drive them up to JFK. So it was one of those trips, I was a skinny young post-doc, and when we went out for Chinese food I got the idea that the egg-drop soup didn't have enough flavor so I doused it with soy sauce. Soon I was feeling strange, "facial pressure" sounds like one of the symptoms, I truly thought my brow ridges had grown out to cave man size and when I went to the men's room and looked in the mirror it was surprising to see that I looked completely normal, had not changed a bit. I don't believe that, when I started feeling the symptoms, I had eaten much else besides the overdosed egg drop soup. The sensations lasted for a while and then I had a kind of buzzy feeling, none of it pleasant.

I am not sure it ever happened again, and I feel that that has something to do with my learning not to be stupid with the soy sauce. If I were imagining things -- I don't know why I would have imagined THAT. And why didn't I continue to imagine things afterwards? Anyway. One lonely data point.
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Re: British Airways ad in Wine Spectator

Postby GeoCWeyer » Tue Jun 19, 2012 8:19 pm

I always think that airline food at best is of the quality of food served at a large hotel to a party of 500.
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Re: British Airways ad in Wine Spectator

Postby Mike Filigenzi » Wed Jun 20, 2012 8:52 pm

There are airlines that still serve meals?

Huh.

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