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Fat Is The 6th Taste Sensation

Fat Is The 6th Taste Sensation

How fat interacts with our taste buds.

Fat Is The 6th Taste Sensation

Thursday, January 21, 2016 - 19:45

Karin Heineman, ISTV Executive Producer

(Inside Science TV) -- There's no mistaking the mouthwatering enjoyment after biting into a juicy cheeseburger or the sweet taste of buttercream frosting on a slice of cake.

There's a lot going on inside our mouths when we eat from smells, textures, and of course, taste. These taste sensations help us enjoy, or dislike food. And you don't have to be a total foodie to know the five basic taste sensations: sour, sweet, salty, bitter and umami. 

Now, scientists have discovered a sixth taste and are proposing that we add a new taste to the list.

What is the newest taste? They call it oleogustus. It's a mouthful to say, but really it's just a Latin word for the taste of fat.  

"The evidence for fat is that also it can be tasted in all places, but probably it is most pronounced in the back of the tongue, or the back of the throat," said Richard Mattes, a nutrition scientist at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana.

In a new study, the researchers have learned that fat interacts with our taste buds -- similar to how the other five basic tastes do -- but, they also learned that fat tastes different from everything else.

"Fats contribute strong odor, they contribute mouth feel or texture, and we are proposing that they also contribute a taste dimension," said Mattes.

But don't let the idea of tasty fatty fries or a buttery melted grilled cheese fool you, the fat taste researchers are talking about isn't a good taste. On its own, it's actually quite unpleasant.

"In fact, I've never met anybody who found it pleasant," he said.

In studies, participants were given samples of sweet, sour, salty, bitter, umami and fatty taste compounds, and asked to sort them by taste. The fat taste was always in a league of its own. 

"We in fact learned that the fatty acids the oleogustus sensation was separate from the other sensations that we call basic, they weren't just sweet, sour, salty, bitter or umami, they were unique," he explained.

Researchers say there could be other tastes out there that still need to be identified. "There are suggestions that a calcium taste may exist; that carbon dioxide is unique or that water is a unique taste sensation, so there are a number of other possible primaries that people are exploring," Mattes concluded.

The idea of adding fat as the sixth taste sensation may take some getting used to, but scientists believe it's on its way to being accepted.

Get Inside the Science

Richard D. Mattes, Purdue University

Research Confirms Fat Is Sixth Taste; Names It Oleogustus

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Karin Heineman

Karin Heineman is the executive producer of Inside Science TV.