Scientists Discover New Taste: Fat

Scientists Discover New Taste: Fat

Scientists Discover New Taste: Fat

For those of you out there who’ve always thought that you had a sixth sense, congratulations, it turns out you were right all along…sort of.  In a new paper published in Chemical Senses, Richard D. Mattes, a professor of nutritional science at Purdue University makes an argument that not only do human beings have tastes for sweet, sour, salty, bitter and umami, they also have the ability to taste pure fat.

Not that Mattes calls its fat, of course, he prefers to call it oleogustus. While oleogustus isn’t a real word in the dictionary sense of things, it has its roots in history, coming from the Latin translation for oily or fatty taste.

However, even though Mattes remains thoroughly convinced that this sixth sense is real, since there’s no real definition for what makes something a basic taste, it’s going to be hard to make all the skeptical scientists of the world equally convinced. But nobody ever made a scientific breakthrough by letting themselves get discouraged by the difficult path ahead, and so Mattes and his colleagues did what scientists (and doctors) do best: they ran a test on the new taste.

In order to see if a set group of people were all able to taste oleogustus as something unique from the other basic tastes, him and his colleagues fed the participants a series of solutions, plugged their noses (so they wouldn’t be able to smell what they were tasting), and asked them to sort the solutions into similar or dissimilar taste categories. Spoiler alert: people can tell a fatty taste from all the other tastes.

But what exactly does a fatty acid taste like? If you’re thinking pizza grease, you need to be thinking grosser because when Mattes says fat what he really means is rendered fat.  While chances are high you’ve never had the pleasure of trying that out for yourself, if you’ve ever seen the Friends episode where all of the characters accidentally take a sip from a glass of fat in Monica’s fridge, then you know just how awful a taste it is that we’re talking about here.

So why, if fat tastes so disgusting, would we ever want to acknowledge it as a taste instead of just a travesty? Because if science accepts it as real, then maybe the food industry will be forced to do the same. Mattes maintains that the food industry goes “to great efforts to keep concentrations of these fatty acids below detection thresholds, because if you can detect them you’re likely not to eat the food.” But then again, maybe fatty acids are kind of like alcohol calories: good, in theory, to know about, but a scary reality. We’ll just have to sit tight and see.

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