A recent study at the Washington University in St. Louis threatens to undermine the established five essential tastes: sweet, salty, sour, bitter and umami. For many years the first four tastes were solely recognized, until the savory flavor of umami was recognized by Japanese researchers in the early twentieth century.
For all other tastes we may have encountered we may encounter, variables like aroma and texture have been used to explain any discrepancies. However now research suggests that there may in fact be a sixth taste, accounting for buttery or fatty foods.
In March, 2010, a study in Australia supported the idea of a “fatty” sixth taste accounting for different flavors associated with food like French Fries or croissants. The study bases this sixth taste on some people’s innate ability to pick out a ‘fatty’ flavor in food without telltale signs of their fat content. If people can successfully notice fatty acids in foods where they should otherwise be undetectable, than the human tongue can in fact respond to fattiness in a similar manner as a sour or sweet food.
Another study from Washington University at St. Louis was just released, supporting the findings of the Australian study. In this new study, researchers asked 21 individuals with BMIs over 30 to sample three different mixtures with the same texture, one of which contained some fatty oil. The results demonstrated that while some people were very good at picking out the fatty oil, others were not. Out of those who could pick out the fat in the mixtures, most had high levels of the CD36 protein, suggesting a genetic reason for recognizing the taste rather than simply learning the flavor.
The jury’s still out on how fatty food will continue to be classified in terms of taste, but with the recent widespread acknowledgement of umami as an official taste, fatty foods may soon follow suit.
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