Food Trends

Science declares fat is the sixth taste

A new study says humans can detect the taste of fat.

A new study says humans can detect the taste of fat.  (iStock)

A sixth basic taste may soon the ranks of sweet, salty, sour, bitter and umami—but it doesn’t really taste that good.

In a new study published in the journal Chemical Senses, scientists have declared “fat” as the sixth taste but its official name may be a little hard to digest. Oleogustus is Latin for "a taste for fat."

According to NPR, scientists have been working for a while to officially declare fat as the sixth taste. But to qualify as a true taste, a flavor must past a rigorous test including triggering “specific receptors on our taste buds” and posses a “unique chemical signature.”

"It is a sensation one would get from eating oxidized oil," Rick Mattes, a professor of nutrition science at Purdue University and one of the study authors, told NPR’s The Salt.

Previous research has shown that humans do have fat receptors in our mouths but there has been disagreement over whether or not people can truly distinguish the taste of fat. Fat isn’t usually just associated with a flavor but also an oily, thick mouth feel due to the triglycerides.

"That gives the richness, the creaminess, viscosity and so on," Mattes told NPR. " But that is not the taste part. The taste part is when we cleave off part of that triglyceride, the fatty acid part."

To conduct the study, researches tasted 28 different samples of mixtures that looked the same but had different tastes. The study found than over 50 percent of people in the study could distinguish the mixtures that contained fatty acids from the other chosen tastes. 

Oleogustus is actually found in high concentrations in rancid foods, serving as an olfactory warning to stop eating—which makes it similar to bitter foods.

But that doesn’t make it necessarily unpleasant.

"At very low concentrations, it may — we don't know this yet — but it may have exactly the opposite effect, the same way bitter stimuli, if you put it just in a glass of water, almost everybody would say it's unpleasant,” Mattes explained. “But in the right context, bitterness adds to the overall appeal of chocolate, of coffee, of wine, many of the foods that we enjoy."