When we eat we have come to recognize a few basic tastes: sweet, sour, bitter, salty, and the newly recognized ‘umami.’ But, according to a new study from Purdue University, fat should be considered a sixth taste called ‘oleogustus’ – “oleo” being the Latin root word for oily or fatty, and “gustus” referring to taste.
Whatever you do, make sure you don’t confuse the taste of fat with the creamy, smooth feel of fat.
“Most of the fat we eat is in the form of triglycerides, which are molecules comprised of three fatty acids… 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,” said Richard D. Mattes, distinguished professor of nutrition science.
Mattes says fat itself has a generally unpleasant flavor, but low concentrations of fatty acids in food may add to their appeal just like unpleasant bitter chemicals can enhance the pleasantness of foods like wine, coffee, and chocolate. This mouth-watering revelation could possibly lead to better tasting food!
“The taste component of fat is often described as bitter or sour because it is unpleasant, but new evidence reveals fatty acids evoke a unique sensation satisfying another element of the criteria for what constitutes a basic taste, just like sweet, sour, salty, bitter and umami. By building a lexicon around fat and understanding 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,” said Mattes, who studies the mechanisms and function of taste.
There are no familiar words to describe the taste of fat, which is why the 102 study participants monitored by Mattes had trouble placing it. They were given multiple cups of solutions each containing a compound that tasted salty, sweet, umami, bitter, sour, or fatty. They were then asked to sort the solutions into groups, often misplacing the fatty samples with the bitter group. Eventually, when asked to sort samples including bitter, umami, and fatty stimuli, panelists grouped the fatty acids together correctly.
The findings were published online in the journal Chemical Senses.