Is Fat the Sixth Taste?

By Mike Pomranz |

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Most of us grew up hearing about four distinct types of taste: sweet, sour, salty and bitter. Recently, umami crashed the party, being fully accepted as a fifth taste. But many seemed skeptical that the complexities of a $125-per-person tasting menu could be broken down into just five categories, and it seemed like only a matter of time before the mysteries of taste were further unraveled.

Now, according to a report in Discover, some scientists are proposing a sixth taste: fat. Part of what makes determining the essence of taste so difficult is that science isn’t as simple as sucking down some bone marrow and giving the thumbs-up. Researchers are first tasked with establishing the criteria that determine whether something can be classified as a distinct taste.

To definite fat as a taste, scientists first had to prove that specific taste cells that only recognize fat exist. Next, they had to determine whether that triggered independent taste-processing regions in the brain. Thanks to “technological advances combined with sophisticated research,” Russell Keast of Deakin University says, “using our taste methodology, we have established fat taste’s perceptual independence from the other tastes.”

So why has it taken us so long to come around to fat as a distinct taste? Well, Keast also believes that “people are not as conscious of tasting fat.” One experiment involved giving participants different solutions and increasing the fatty acid content until they could determine which one contained fat. “Even when people can correctly identify the fatty acid solution, they cannot provide an adjective that describes any flavor; they know it is different but can’t say why,” Keast wrote.

Even with all this new information, Keast himself still seems more open to increasing discussion surrounding taste than forcing this sixth taste upon the rest of us. “Of course, questions remain,” he concludes. “Does lack of perceivable taste quality exclude fat from being classified as a taste, for instance? Or is there a piece of information that would exclude fat from being a taste?”

Meanwhile, official taste or not, I think we can all agree that a lot of fatty stuff tastes delicious. Is that an official taste? Delicious?

[h/t First We Feast]

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