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Does jet-lag affect your sense of taste?

I'm asking b/c whenever I fly to and from Europe, it takes a few days for me to get the full range of flavors in the foods I eat.

I've learned to not plan on any elaborate, expensive, or subtly flavored meals in the first couple of days after a transatlantic flight, because it's totally wasted on me.

Everything I eat tastes bland, muted... like the flavors are turned down a few notches. So I either don't bother eating anything interesting, or I need to seriously crank up the spice level to 'enjoy' my meal.

Anyone else share this experience?

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  1. This is *fascinating*, linguafood! And now you've got me thinking back over the (many, many) times when I've been jet-lagged.

    Pondering it now, it seems to make sense that one's taste would be a little sluggish after a long flight, especially adding in the time change and general frenzy of travel these days.

    I do definitely crave certain foods after a long flight -- something as far from airplane food as I can get my hands on: hot, fresh, comfort-foodish. Last time I went to Australia, my first post-plane meal was a massive scallion pancake, beautiful little juicy pork dumplings, and gallons of hot tea, from a northern Chinese dumpling place in Sydney.

    I definitely don't crave spicy foods -- usually long flights and exhaustion make me a wee bit nauseous, so I'm pretty put off by strong flavors.

    Very interested to hear others' input!

    1. Most of my travel is N-S with not so many time zones. My Europe-US adjustments have been more the meal shifts, i.e. departing Europe at breakfast time and arriving in the US 7 hours later, in time for..a late breakfast.
      From the other direction, Sydney to Denver wiped me out for 2 days. But Miami- Rio, 8 hours, no problem. I think it's more the clock adjustment for me.

      1. Fortunately, no - if anything both appetite and pleasure in the food are heightened by the mild buzz I get from jet lag. Let me at that food, whether in Europe or Asia.

        1. I'd be unsure whether it was sense of taste or, simply, tiredness that's the cause - but I usually have little interest in "good food" for a couple of days. Of course, when you're flying to, say, a holiday destination you gotta make an effort to overcome that and just dive into the food as best you can. You may not get the second chance.

          1. Perhaps it is simply the overexposure to the dreadful "air" on the plane damaging your olfactory abilities and thus affecting your sense of tase. I have noticed that even relatively short flights may congest my sniffer.

            Then again, the entire air travel experience in and of itself is often enough to ruin one's appetite. I mean, "Sure, here's an extra 25 bucks so you can inadvertenly forget to send my bag to my ultimate destination. . . . "

            1. Nothing seems to effect my sense of taste or my appetite. Dammit :) I come off an airplane all ready to chowdown any time and any where. I agree with Veggo that N/S is much easier than W/E because of few time zone changes. We're heading to Rio on Thurs. We live in NoCal and it's only four hours difference. One of our best meals ever was returning from Rio with alayover in Houston. We bought ribs in the airport and while others on the plane were having Cheerios with milk and a banana, we were chowing down on ribs and slurping beer!!!

              1 Reply
              1. re: c oliver

                Tell me you weren't hungry when you got off the plane, after the ribs and the beer!!

                With me, lack of appetite is only partly the problem. Of course, with the time change and all, meal times are shifted fairly radically, and I try to eat light meals in the first few days. It's just that they all kind of taste seriously *meh*. Means I eat less, of course, and lose 2 lbs. in a day (which, sadly, never stays off...)

              2. No, if by "jet-lag" you mean just an adjustment period to a change in timezones.

                What does affect my sense of taste is fatigue in general -- which oftentimes, for me anyway, is part and parcel to jet-lag.

                2 Replies
                1. re: ipsedixit

                  Well, yeah. We all know jet-lag fucks with your internal system, and one experiences fatigue.

                  But even in my "awakest" hours, sitting down to eat.... it's almost irrelevant what I put in my mouth.

                  Guess I'm super-special that way '-D

                  1. re: ipsedixit

                    I think mine ends up being a combination of fatigue, messed-up sinuses, and just a little discombobulation -- my body thinks it's lunch time, but it's dinnertime according to the clock, so it's sort of a misplaced expectation.

                    I'm usually ravenous when I land in Europe, because the food on the plane sucks, and I resent the two swallows of tepid, dirty water that they call "coffee", and the wet spongelike substance that they call a "croissant".

                    I usually just drink the OJ, eat the banana, and hope that customs isn't FUBAR so I can go get a cup of actual coffee and a pastry.

                  2. I know that your sense of taste is supposedly affected on the plane itself, which is why airlines say they get a bad rap, and that they now formulate their food to compensate. But this may be BS.

                    I remember what I ate the last time I flew (over 12 years ago) and my taste wasn't affected at the time.

                    And I can't remember the first thing I ate in New York was. I wouldn't be surprised if it was a hot dog, but I don't think you could judge that as being subtle.

                    16 Replies
                    1. re: Soop

                      I don't love airline food, but I don't hate it either. I never understand why people say they are so terrible: all these jokes about people turning into cannibalism before consider eating airline foods.

                      1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                        Ugh. If someone asks me "chicken or pasta" one more time, I'm gonna flip. The "pasta" is an abomination, generally overcooked, in shitty tomato sauce, with shitty cheese on top. The chicken is tasteless rubber crap.

                        I'd rather OD on airport food (which also has gotten a lot better in recent years) like Bourbon chicken or a simple sandwich or salad. ANYTHING is better than cattle class airplane food.

                        Save for Singapore Airlines. And business class.

                        1. re: linguafood

                          I always get hungry on the plane that look forward to the foods :)

                          1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                            Look, Ck, I am fully aware of notions of “quality” being intrinsically relative, but, frankly my friend, your defense of airline food is bringing me down. I mean, I will grant you certain latitude based upon the delirium brought about through near starvation and I can accept that perhaps you felt comfortable muttering “Hmm, you know, that was pretty good . . . for airline food” once or twice. However, I am going to look upon your attitude regarding the culinary abominations served while in the air as born out of some type of unconscious anxiety related to the travel process that manifests as hunger. Please don’t try to dissuade me, as I think this is the only way your preceding comments and my general respect for you as a ‘hound may peacefully co-exist.

                          2. re: linguafood

                            That might have been it. We were bumped to 1st class, so I ate steak, champagne and a fresh baked cookie.

                            1. re: linguafood

                              Oh yes. But, I tell you what, the snacks on Qantas are dynamite. They serve the most delicious little chocolate and vanilla biscuits with your tea, and in the middle of the "night" they bring around frozen fruit bars. The little snack packs they hand out are seriously yum. But the food itself? Dreck. And I've tried every meal formulation available, I swear -- vegetarian, kosher, vegan, halal... All equally offensive.

                              1. re: LauraGrace

                                Why can't they just make a delicious and nourishing stew T____T

                              2. re: linguafood

                                ugh - not if you're talking about Atlanta -- it's one greasy fast-food joint after another -- not at all what I want to eat before sitting for 10 hours.

                              3. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                It's never good but it's a diversion from the tedium of a long flight (you can always be bemused by just how bad it is, like the fishball coated in aspic sliding around on top of another firmer gelled substance of indeterminate flavor that was the "appetizer" on a flight I took to Shanghai from NRT) . I know what you mean, Chemk.

                                1. re: buttertart

                                  Oh, some of the airline foods are bad, like the standard airline pasta, but I have had interesting little snacks (Tawianese pineapple biscuits) and I also found the non-American styles of meals more interseting -- in general anway.

                                  1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                    Me too! Yunnan candies for example on a China Eastern Yunnan food "festival" meal. Where are you going to get those other than by going there?

                                    1. re: buttertart

                                      Yunnan candies? Are you talking about those hand pulled stressed candy?


                                      Ok, maybe machine pulled nowsday.

                                      I mostly fly from US to Japan and then to Taiwan. I think I got the pineapple biscuit on my way from Japan to Taiwan.


                                      When I was very young I had an interesting yellowish rice dish on Singapore airline. I don't remember much, but I remember it was not bad at all.

                                      1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                        Man, you're so lucky CK.

                                        If you ever write about your adventures, let me know, I'd like to read them

                                        1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                          They were small hard candies, some exotic fruit flavor. Better than the noodles they came with! (Not dragon-beard candy if that's what you're thinking of).
                                          Pineapple cakes...mmm...maybe next time it'll be a Taiyang bing...

                                      2. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                        The best cookies I've ever had on a plane were from a flight from Tikal back to Guatemala. Ginger cookies. Divine.

                                        1. re: happybaker

                                          Did you have any cardamom while in Guatemala?

                                2. I remember when I came back from Japan, I had one of those lukewarm personal pizzas from Pizza Hut in the airport and thought I was going to cry because it was so delicious. Let's get real, those really aren't that good.

                                  1 Reply
                                  1. re: queencru

                                    That is because you haven't had pizza for a long while, right? I went on fasting for three days, and I find everything as simple as nabisco biscuits very tasty at the end of my fasting.

                                  2. Not for me. At least, nothing substantial that I notice. However, jet-lag can affect my appetite, or so I believe.

                                    1. I got back from San Francisco to the UK a couple of days ago and found the wine I'd been drinking here for some time from the same case suddenly tasted bitter - my partner found this too. I asked for a refund from my supplier, but now the wine has improved, and I think this must be our jet-lagged tastebuds rather than the wine.

                                      1. I fly frequently. I have no issues with jet lag or the sense of taste.

                                        1. Haven't noticed any differences in taste perception, and my most recent flights are E-W, and 14+ hrs. I'm always hungry in-flight, as there are "cooking smells" / i.e., rethermalizing aromas haha.
                                          I usually avoid serious dining adventures for at least a day or two, until I am more well-rested.

                                          1. No,not the jet-lag. It's actually being on the flight that affects me. Breathing that recirculated air and the constant wine of the jet engine. I'm also 6'8" so I have to battle the person in front of me with their seat in full recline as my knees push into their back. After ten hours of that and trying to supress my pain with alcohol, my sences are dulled for a couple days.

                                            1 Reply
                                            1. re: emglow101

                                              You have my genuine sympathies. I am of average height, and find things a tight fit. I've always felt bad for those who aren't average. Even my petite little mom has problems -- she's so short, her feet don't touch the floor unless she puts a bag on the floor -- the pressure of the seat frame on her legs makes her feet go to sleep if she doesn't prop up her feet.

                                              I used to work with three guys who were huge -- the smallest one was 6'3" with an 18" collar (and none fat -- I ordered the work shirts...) -- those guys were always miserable trying to cram their enormous frames into the seats.

                                            2. I recently did Tokyo-Amsterdam-New York and surprisingly my taste buds were more awake than usual. Having to go from Japanese convenience stores (including 7-11) to the septic tanks in the US (aka 7-11) is monumentally dispiriting.

                                              Usually it's in-flight where one encounters this issue, and depending on the airline that might be a good thing.


                                              1. Traveling west doesn't bother me much. Traveling east over 4 times zones messes me up big time. Under that and I'm ok after a good sleep. I get mental weirdness, either spaciness or hyper-intense focus, become severely introverted, appetite suppression, food really does taste blah/boring big time even spicy stuff, alcohol either doesn't effect me, or does in ways other than the norm. Flying to Europe kicks my brain apart and it takes me almost a week to adapt. Fly back here and I am ok within 24 hours.

                                                4 Replies
                                                1. re: JMF

                                                  Interesting. I think it takes me longer to recover going west... but your "symptoms" sound very similar to mine -- well, the food-related ones, at least.

                                                  1. re: linguafood

                                                    I'm one of those super sensitive people to medication, photosensitive exposure, circadian rhythms, etc. If there is a possible side effect of a medication, I will get it. Dark winter days I have to have bright lights or I will be lethargic and extremely mellow. Or I have to sleep natural/medieval style, with segmented sleep. Go to bed, sleep several hours, get up for a few hours, then go back to sleep. I'm doing that right now. I had 3.75 hours sleep, then I've been awake for 1.75 hours, and now going back to bed. Summer nights and I may only sleep 3-4 hours and feel energized.

                                                    1. re: JMF

                                                      Oh god. Anything less than 9 hours and I'm incapable *and* insufferable :-D

                                                      1. re: linguafood

                                                        I actually never went back to sleep. Only 3.75 hours last night and so far had a busy day. I'm annoyed with the whole federal/state health insurance nonsense, and my health provider, but that's not unusual.

                                                2. Laurie Colwin, the late great food writer, had a fabulous essay on feeding jet lagged folks or travelers

                                                  She spoke of the physical and mental tiredness. Her solution? Soup. She had her preferences but as someone who used to do the east coast/west coast red eye it truly freed me to say "Can I just have something simple?"

                                                  Once I realized it would take me about 24 hours to adjust, I was able to eat better, feel better - and then attack the big good stuff!

                                                  1. Me! That's why I am researching this topic. When I flew in to SF from London I realized I could not taste anything for 5 days after I landed! Two weeks later I flew back and I am now on day 2.5 here in London and still no taste.

                                                    Very strange and very frustrating when on vacation trying to have my faves and tasting nothing.

                                                    I think it's related to the airplane air, I swear they put something in it...
                                                    I get a lot of sinus drainage after the plane so perhaps it is that with whatever is in the air that kills my taste. That would make the most sense....

                                                    1. This is why I try to fly to Hong Kong when I'm en route to SE Asia. There's nothing I really want there anyway...oh, and having the HK airport frequent traveler card helps too.

                                                      1. I tend to agree with comments regarding the treatment of air on the long haul flights, and how that may effect your olfactory senses (closely linked to taste, clearly).
                                                        I wonder if there are any Hounders here who have worked on airlines, or catering companies that supply them etc, who can talk to the food preparation and quality issues.
                                                        I think it would be a whole set of different challenges for an airline to serve high quality at a reasonable price point and with different methods of cooking, preserving and reheating food etc.