For years, the standard line of thinking in regard to fat was that it enhanced foods texturally, but did not in itself actually add any kind of flavor or taste to a meal. While previously, scientists have recognized only 4 basic tastes: sweet, salty, sour, and bitter, recent research from Purdue University suggests that not only does fat have a taste, it could be considered a fifth type of basic taste too.
Richard Mattes, professor of foods and nutrition, at Purdue speculates that the misconceptions about fat – primarily that it is tasteless – stem from a lack of understanding our mechanisms for fat perception. Recent studies with rats have highlighted these relatively unstudied mechanisms; the results of the study show that fat caused clear electrical changes to the taste buds of rats, which indicates the presence of an embedded chemical detection system for fat engrained in their physiology.
Basically, the rats bodies were capable of recognizing the presence of fat in food by taste and showed a marked preference for it over other foods.
This could be part of the reason why many people find fat-free or reduced fat foods less appealing, and why fattier foods – rich desserts, creamy pastas, and fried treats – may hold such an allure over healthier options. It’s not 100% certain yet whether fat is a preferred taste of its own, or if it just enhances the tastes of other foods, or is perhaps some combination of the two, but further research will definitely broaden our understanding of our biological needs and impulses, food-wise.
Photo Credits: AISA, Alberto’s Kitchen, Culinate