Hugh Pickens writes "At low elevations, the 10,000 or so taste buds in the human mouth work pretty much as nature intended. But step aboard a modern airliner, and the sense of taste loses its bearings. Even before a plane takes off, the atmosphere inside the cabin dries out the nose. As the plane ascends, the change in air pressure numbs about a third of the taste buds, and at 35,000 feet with cabin humidity levels kept low by design to reduce the risk of fuselage corrosion, xerostomia or cotton mouth sets in. This explain why airlines tend to salt and spice food heavily. Without all that extra kick, food tastes bland. 'Ice cream is about the only thing I can think of that tastes good on a plane,' says Marion Nestle, a professor of nutrition, food studies and public health at New York University. 'Airlines have a problem with food on board. The packaging, freezing, drying and storage are hard on flavor at any altitude, let alone 30,000 feet.' Challenges abound. Food safety standards require all meals to be cooked first on the ground. After that, they are blast-chilled and refrigerated until they can be stacked on carts and loaded on planes. For safety, open-flame grills and ovens aren't allowed on commercial aircraft, so attendants must contend with convection ovens that blow hot, dry air over the food. 'Getting any food to taste good on a plane is an elusive goal,' says Steve Gundrum, who runs a company that develops new products for the food industry."