‘Oleogustus’ joins sweet, salty, sour, bitter and umami! Fat is now a flavor…

Oleogustus. It even sounds fatty. Remember that fat kid named ‘Augustus Gloop’ from Willy Wonka who got stuck in a chocolate pipe? Sounds to me like that was the inspiration behind this quirky taste. However, its simply named after the Latin term for fat taste, and according to experts it is not as delicious or mouth-watering as it sounds. In fact, in its raw form it causes people to gag.

“It is a taste without an identifiable quality,” says Professor Russell Keast, head of the Centre of Advanced Sensory Science.

Fat does not provide the same distinct taste as sweet or salt, rather it elicits a sensation on the tongue, he explained.

“Fat taste is not like sweet or salty where there is conscious perception associated with eating sugar or sodium chloride (table salt). Fat taste is unconscious, it is different from the food without the fatty acid but is difficult to describe.”

“Research from animal and human studies provide conclusive evidence that there is fat taste,” he adds “For fat to be considered a taste it must meet some strict criteria, and it does.”

In a paper published in the latest issue of Flavor Journal, the researchers with Deakin’s newly formed Centre of Advanced Sensory Science have explained evidence for fat taste from diverse fields of science including molecular biology, neurobiology and sensory science. They found there is overwhelming evidence for the tongue’s ability to detect fat, making it the sixth taste alongside sweet, salt, sour, bitter and umami.

A research team at Purdue University in the US tested lookalike mixtures with different tastes. More than half of the 28 special tasters could distinguish fatty acids from the other tastes, according to a study published in the journal Chemical Senses.

Past research showed fat had a distinct feel in the mouth, but when scientists removed texture and smell clues people could still tell the difference.

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“The fatty acid part of taste is very unpleasant,” said study author Richard Mattes, a Purdue nutrition science professor. “I haven’t met anybody who likes it alone. You usually get a gag reflex.”

Stinky cheese has high levels of the fat taste and so does food that goes rancid, Mattes said. Yet we like it because it mixes well and brings out the best of other flavors, just like the bitter in coffee or chocolate.

To qualify as a basic taste, a flavour must have unique chemical signature, have specific receptors in our bodies for the taste, and people have to distinguish it from other tastes. Scientists had found the chemical signature and two specific receptors for fat, but showing that people could distinguish it was the sticky point.

Initially Mattes found that people couldn’t quite tell fat tastes when given a broad array of flavours. But when just given tastes that are generally unpleasant on their own — bitter, umami, sour — they could find the fat.

The team started out with 54 people but concentrated on the results from 28 who were better tasters in general.

Robin Dando, a Cornell University food scientist who who did not take part in the research, praised the study as “a pretty strong piece of evidence” for a basic fat taste, but didn’t like the suggested name — preferring to just call it fat. There is no single scientific authority that names senses.

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