Online Exclusives

Building a Better In-Flight Meal

By Joanna Cosgrove, Online Editor | August 6, 2012

British research firm crafts novel “mega-healthy” airline meal that meets all EFSA health claims.

Anyone who’s ever received a meal on a commercial flight knows the contents of that simple tray leave a lot to be desired. Sure, there are options – kosher, vegetarian – but wouldn’t it be great if those meals did more than just appease the grumbling in your stomach? Surrey, England-based Leatherhead Food Research, an independent research center for food science and legislation, recently took that idea to task and created the “mega healthy” concept airline meal that’s not only delicious, but also satisfies all of 222 Article 13.1 health claims approved by the European Commission.
The creation of the meal evolved out of challenge from Leatherhead CEO Dr. Paul Berryman, who tasked his team of scientific, regulatory and marketing experts to devise a meal that could meet all 222 claims. “It was great fun,” Dr. Berryman recalled. “I thought of the airline meal concept when flying back from Vitafoods in Geneva. I had spent three days talking about health claims and at a round table event I suggested that Leatherhead could make a product with all 222 claims, no problem! It wasn’t that simple, but we did it within one week!”
Dr. Berryman explained that the meal is specially designed for long haul flights and is packed with minerals, vitamins and “everything else that EFSA currently thinks is healthy.”
The meal consists of fresh smoked salmon terrine (with ALA and DHA for brain and heart function), mixed leaf side salad with extra virgin olive oil dressing (for cholesterol claims), high fiber multigrain bread roll (for 17 claims regarding fiber, folate and arabinoxylan), chicken casserole with lentils & vegetables (for iron absorption, vitamins and minerals), “live yoghurt blancmange” (for cholesterol, gut health and blood glucose control), cranberry, raspberry and elderflower sports drink (for energy, vitamins and electrolytes), and pure spring water (to offset dehydration).
The meal also includes additional items to benefit not only the eater of the meal but also those around them. Charcoal tablets are included to reduce excessive flatulence (useful in an enclosed airplane cabin), as is sugar-free chewing gum to freshen the breath and neutralize plaque acids post-meal. The chewing also helps relieve pressure in the ears, but Leatherhead said it wasn’t an official health claim.
For those watching their waistline, the pack includes mixed berry meal replacement shakes, while jet lag sufferers can sip on a melatonin-containing hot chocolate drink to relieve their symptoms.
Dr. Berryman said that now that there is an official list of 222 general health claims, it will be even more important for innovative food companies to establish new scientific evidence for future health claim applications under Article 13.5 or Article 14.
Though Leatherhead’s in-flight meal is just a concept, Dr. Berryman told Nutraceuticals World that his firm is already working with one major airline. “We have already been helping British Airways for some time with their ‘Height Cuisine’ program to maximize the tastiness and healthiness of their in-flight meals,” he said.
In fact, British Airways has put a great deal of effort into the meals they serve their customers flying in all of their flight classes. An article about British Airways’ Height Cuisine program, published on the website, explained that the program considered many factors that could influence a passenger’s meal experience including altitude, air pressure and humidity.
"At British Airways, we know that dining at altitude can have a dramatic impact on our senses," Menu Design Manager Sinead Ferguson, told "With the atmosphere being so dry in the pressurized cabin, the ability to smell and taste can be reduced by up to 30%. So Height Cuisine is basically the approach British Airways is taking to understand how we can provide great-tasting food and drink on board our flights."
British Airways sought Leatherhead’s expertise to conduct a series of on-board taste tests to assess sweet, sour, bitter and savory flavors at various times throughout the flight. "Overall the sense of bitterness is heightened and it tends to be the more delicate foods that lose an amount of taste at altitudes," Ms. Ferguson said. reported that British Airways’ current summer offerings in their World Traveler cabin include two choices. “The citrus juices and spices in the Indian chicken tikka and the rich umami of tortellacci with tomato and olive have been chosen for their ability to stand up to flavor-inhibiting altitude. On the First Class flight from JFK a slow roasted veal loin is served with a Périgueux sauce made with Madeira and truffles, capitalizing on umami to boost flavor.”

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