Need to Know
  1. Scientists have found evidence for "fat" as a basic taste
  2. It would join salty, sweet, sour, bitter, and umami
  3. Is a "fatty" equivalent of table salt the next step?

Taste is one of our key senses and dictates how we experience the world around us, specifically through our daily interactions with food. For decades, we have been taught that our taste buds perceive and respond to just a handful of basic tastes: salty, sweet, sour, bitter, and the (relatively) recent addition of umami (or savory). These basic tastes are defined by the interaction between the chemical components of food and the receptors in our taste buds, creating distinct and satisfying flavors.

But soon science books may have to add another taste to the list, following the recent discovery that our taste buds are capable of registering a “sixth sense” when we consume food. A study at Purdue University led by Richard Mattes has just identified “fat” as this sixth basic taste. This finding has the potential to revolutionize the way we eat as much as table salt or white sugar did when it comes to enhancing certain flavors in our food.

“Fat” on its own doesn’t taste like, say, bacon — it actually tastes pretty gross at the basic level. This is not surprising, since basic tastes often aren’t appealing in their own right. Pure bitterness or umami also are fairly unpalatable when sampled in their purest form, but they provide pleasant sensory experience when combined with other tastes. This is evident in the way we cook, with the best dishes combining tastes and flavors that complement and offset one another.

The “fat taste” discovery may send the food industry seeking new ways to work with and manipulate the taste receptors in our mouths. Imagine a “fat taste” food additive that we could sprinkle on our food the same way we use table salt! Amping up fatty flavors might significantly change how we combine, flavor, and experience our food.

That said, it’s also important to consider possible health implications of being able to add fatty flavors to anything and everything. Would enhancing “fat taste” just lead to more unhealthy cravings? Or, on the other hand, could a potential “fatty” additive provide a way to get the flavor we crave without the negative health implications?

Image Source: Flickr user Steven Depolo