Umami was discovered in the 19th century, but it was only in 2002 that the scientific community official named it the fifth taste. Now there is evidence to suggest that there might be a sixth, says Discover Magazine. Fat could eventually join sweet, salty, sour, bitter, and umami as one of the basic tastes.
You can watch the one-and-a-half-minute Smithsonian video above for a refresher of how our tastebuds work, but basically we have a variety of receptors in our mouths that are primed to detect a specific taste. When you eat something bitter, it triggers the bitterness receptors in your mouth. They send a signal to the brain which then makes a call on whether you should spit (because you’re eating something that might be dangerous) or swallow.
A goat goes after a tasty, non-poisonous vine in Washington, D.C. (Photo: Flickr/ Carly Lesser & Art Drauglis)
According to Discover, a number of studies have shown that we can perceive fat independently of other tastes. Compared to the other five though, it’s a more subtle one that we’re not always aware of picking up. “When we place sucrose on our tongue, for instance, we experience sweetness. But people are not as conscious of tasting fat.”
Sensitivity to the taste of fat can even vary between individuals. When it comes to any taste, we all have different levels of receptiveness, which is why some people can’t handle those spicy wings while others want extra hot sauce on them. Chefs, for instance, usually have very sensitive taste receptors. But some people just don’t pick up taste very strongly, and get less sensation (and presumably enjoyment) from their food.
Unfortunately, says the Tech Times, that might actually lead them to eat more. An Australian study found that people who pick up on the fat in their mouths are more likely to feel sated after eating. On the flip side, “the inability to taste fat can make people feel more hungry, and make them more likely to consume more energy even after having a high fat meal.”
German researchers came to a similar conclusion after studying the dietary habits of kids, reports Time. They found that obese children were not as good as identifying different tastes, and in general experienced less flavor intensity than their non-obese peers.
More research is needed to confirm whether we really have dedicated taste receptors just for fat. But if we do, and we can measure how active they are, we might be able to identify early on whether someone has an increased risk of obesity. And if over-eating really is a result of under-tasting, that’s good news for dieters. It means a shift away from tasteless food devoid of fat, sugar, or flavor; and a movement towards mindful eating where we experience our food to the max.
[via Discovery Magazine]