Move over, sweet and salty: Researchers say we have a distinct and basic taste for fat, too. But it’s nowhere near as delicious as it sounds.
They propose expanding our taste palate to include fat along with sweet, salty, bitter, sour and umami.
A research team at Purdue University tested look-alike mixtures with different tastes. More than half the people in a group of 28 tasters could distinguish fatty acids from the other tastes, according to a study published in the journal Chemical Senses.
Past research showed that fat had a distinct feel in the mouth, but scientists removed texture and smell clues and people could still tell the difference.
“The fatty-acid part of taste is very unpleasant,” study author Richard Mattes, a Purdue nutrition science professor, said. “I haven’t met anybody who likes it alone. You usually get a gag reflex.”
Stinky cheese has high levels of the fat taste, and so does food that goes rancid, Mattes said. Yet we like it because it mixes well and brings out the best of other flavors, just as the bitter in coffee and chocolate does, he added.
To qualify as a basic taste, a flavor has to have a unique chemical signature and specific receptors in our bodies for the taste; also people have to be able to distinguish it from other tastes. Scientists had already found the chemical signature and two specific receptors for fat, but showing that people could distinguish it was the sticking point.
Initially, Mattes found that people couldn’t quite tell fat tastes when given a broad array of flavors. But when just given yucky tastes they could find the fat.