Scientists at Purdue University have isolated the taste of fat— a discovery that may have implications for obesity research and human biology, Forbes reported.

The finding potentially means that, in addition to the five known basic tastes— bitter, salty, sour, sweet and umami— fat has a distinct taste and brain activity patterns that generate it.

Many scientists believe fat is a basic taste or one that human biology is tailored to detect.

In the study, volunteers tasted samples infused with chemicals representative of basic tastes and fatty acids. Their noses were clipped so the aromas did not interfere, as that is a major factor in flavor.

They found that the fat sensation was distinct and that fatty acids— the building blocks of fat— tasted bad. According to Forbes, many scientists believe the thick, creamy consistency that fat imbues, in combination with other tastes, aromas and textures, make it innately gratifying. The new findings suggest that humans may be programmed to like fats and dislike fatty acids.

“We have a situation where one form of fat is adding to the appeal of food and may encourage intake. While with another, the taste signal is aversive, discouraging consumption,” said study author Richard Mattes, a professor of foods and nutrition at Purdue.

This may be explained by the fact that fatty acids, which are essential nutrients, tend to accumulate in rotting foods as fat breaks down. The bad taste may be a warning against eating something that may cause sickness. Another explanation may be that, like bitterness, the taste for fatty acids acts as a counterpoint to more pleasant flavors.

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