Scientists Have Discovered a Sixth Basic Taste

For centuries, scientists identified four distinct tastes that human tongues could differentiate: sweet, sour, salty and bitter.  In 1908, a Japanese scientist proposed a fifth taste: umami, which can be translated as “pleasant savory.”  Now, scientists have identified a sixth taste: oleogustus.

Taste is one of the five traditional senses that also include sight, hearing, smell and touch.  (Scientists theorize that humans may actually possess between nine and 21 distinct senses, but that is another story.)

In a recent study, researchers at Purdue University found that our taste buds interact with fat in a way that is similar to – but distinct from – any other taste.  More than 100 participants were given isolated solutions to taste.  They were able to identify and distinguish the taste of nonesterified fatty acids (NEFAs) from the other basic tastes.

The data suggest that long-chain fatty acids stimulate a unique chemical reaction when interacting with our taste buds.  This may help explain why people experience a singular pleasure from eating high-fat foods such as cake and pizza.

The researchers propose calling this new taste “oleogustus” (Latin for “fatty taste”).  They believe this discovery could help food scientists develop healthier dietary alternatives.  Until now, the food industry believed that fat was attractive because of the way it felt in the taster’s mouth.  But instead of trying to mimic the “feel” of fat, they could try to replicate the chemical interactions it causes with taste buds.

Imagine a future table setting, where your condiments would include sugar (for sweetness), MSG (for savory), salt… and sprinklable “fat”!

This latest research expands on a previous 2012 Purdue University study that first proposed the concept of “fatty acid taste.”  That study used an Agilent gas chromatograph and mass spectrometer to separate, identify and quantify the NEFAs.

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