Fat Joins the Family of Human Tastes
If the research headline was a birth announcement, it might have read “Sweet, Sour, Salty, Bitter and Umami welcome their newest brother ‘Oleogustus’ into the human taste spectrum.”
In a recent study appearing in Chemical Senses (2015; doi: 10.1093/chemse/bjvo36), scientists at Purdue University reported evidence that, like our other five basic tastes, fat interacts with our taste buds in a way that can make our perception of food change.
“Most of the fat we eat is in the form of triglycerides, which are molecules [composed] of three fatty acids,” said Richard D. Mattes, PhD, MPH, professor of nutrition science at Purdue and the study’s lead author. “Triglycerides often impart appealing textures to foods, like creaminess. However, triglycerides are not a taste stimulus. Fatty acids
that are cleaved off the triglyceride in the food or during chewing in the mouth
stimulate the sensation of fat.”
The taste component of fat is often described as bitter or sour, because
it is unpleasant, Mattes explained, but the new evidence reveals that fatty acids evoke a unique (and distinguishable) sensation for our taste buds, thus satisfying another criterion for qualifying as a basic taste, just like sweet, sour, salty, bitter and umami. “By building a lexicon around fat and understand-
ing its identity as a taste, it could help the food industry develop
better tasting products and with more research help clinicians
and public health educators better understand the health
implications of oral fat exposure.”
The researchers have proposed oleogustus as a name for the taste sensation. “Oleo” is a Latin root word for oily or fatty and “gustus” refers to taste.