We associate fat with some very delicious treats: sizzling pork crackling, crispy chips and warm, buttery croissants. However, some scientists are about to dash the reality of the fantastic taste of fat. They have found that fat, in its raw form, is so repellent that it causes people to gag. What's more, they want to add the taste of fat to the official senses of the human palate.
Currently, these include: sweet, salty, bitter, sour and umami. The new addition, if officially added to the mix, would be called oleogustus. This is a grand-sounding Latin word that means "fat-taste." For a new taste to make it onto the list of tastes, it must have a unique chemical signature that only activates specific receptors on our tongue. This way, we can distinguish it from the other taste sensations.
Researchers from Purdue University tested how unique the taste of oleogustus is in a taste test containing 28 tasters. The study started with 54 people but the team decided to focus on the 28 who showed better tasting ability. The tasters were given a mixture of fatty acids and lookalikes with different compositions to see whether oleogustus was uniquely distinguishable. The results have been published in the journal, Chemical Senses.
It turned out that more than half of the tasters could distinguish the fatty acid from the other tastes. They commented that the feel of the fat in their mouth was distinct, but even if this distinct texture was removed, the fat taste was still clear.
Richard Mattes, the study author from Purdue University, described the taste: “The fatty acid part of taste is very unpleasant.” He further commented on the tasters' overall opinion, saying: “I haven’t met anybody who likes it alone. You usually get a gag reflex.”
Mattes commented that an abundance in oleogustus can indicate that the food will make us sick or is not good for us. "Fatty taste itself is not pleasant. When concentrations of fatty acids are high in a food it is typically rejected, as would be the case when a food is rancid. In this instance, the fat taste sensation is a warning to not eat the item. At the same time, low concentrations of fatty acids in food may add to their appeal just like unpleasant bitter chemicals can enhance the pleasantness of foods like chocolate, coffee and wine."
More testing will need to be done before oleogustus can officially join the taste family, but these results could be the first step to fat being recognized as a taste in its own right.