There are few more perfect, gluttonous pleasures in life than a perfectly prepared, fatty steak. But what makes it so good? Is it the fat? And if so, what does fat taste like that’s so awesome? Is it even a taste at all?
Research conducted at Purdue University and published in the journal Chemical Senses provides new scientific evidence that fat may actually constitute its own taste, which these scientists have taken to calling “oleogustus.” Soon, we may be adding that mouthful of a word alongside our other five tastes: sweet, sour, salty, bitter and umami.
“Our experiments provide a missing element in the evidence that fat has a taste sensation, and that it is different from other tastes,” Professor Richard Mattes, director of the Ingestive Behavior Research Center at Purdue University, told The Independent. These scientists hope that better identifying the taste of fat could help make better tasting low fat foods in the future.
So what does fat taste like? Apparently not good. “At high concentrations, the signal it generates would dissuade the eating of rancid foods,” said Mattes. His team’s experiments involved having volunteers wearing nose clips sort different tastes presented with identical textures into different groups. The results showed that participants were able to identify fat as having a distinctly different taste, with only minimal overlap with umami. “Many people described it as bitter or irritating and consistently unpalatable,” Mattes stated. “The research is difficult because we do not have a widely agreed-upon word to describe the sensation.” These volunteers lack of familiarity with fat may also explain its small umami overlap.
Meanwhile, this research certainly isn’t the first to claim fat is a sixth taste. Australian researchers made a similar claim back in February, with one stating, “Even when people can correctly identify [fat], they cannot provide an adjective that describes any flavor; they know it is different but can’t say why.” It’s that old question: If you can’t describe a taste, is it really a taste at all? For now, the answer is “maybe.”
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