Science Indicates Fat May Be The 6th Taste

A study published in Chemical Senses suggested that fat may be a basic taste, along with sweet, sour, salty, bitter and umami (or savory). Scientists have suspected this may be the case for a while now: Structurally speaking, fat has unique characteristics that could indicate it qualifies as a taste. However, it has been hard for scientists to pin fat down when it comes to people actually tasting it. It’s difficult to recognize concepts that don’t have a name, so people often mistake the taste of fat for other tastes, or simply don’t pick up on it at all. In light of the study, fat taste has been dubbed “oleogustus” for the Latin “oleo,” (oil) and “gustus” (taste). Culinary arts programs may soon be adding oleogustus to their vocabulary lists.

Researchers asked participants to try concentrated amounts of different tastes (meaning they were given something that tasted only sour, only sweet, etc.) and had them group the samples by taste. When all of the samples were given, people tended to sort oleogustus in with bitter. However, when only the samples originally considered “bitter” were sorted, oleogustus came out as its own distinct taste.

As delicious as fatty foods are, however, it turns out fat tastes bad. So bad in fact that Richard D. Mattes, one of the authors of the study, told Time Magazine that he thinks of it as “more of a warning system.” During the study, participants who were struggling to describe a taste they had no term for instead exclusively used generic negative phrases. This has to do with how much of the fat flavor they were tasting. Despite their reputation, foods like cheeseburgers or mozzarella sticks have relatively small amounts of oleogustus taste. In the same way that sour tastes great in lemonade but can easily get overwhelming, oleogustus can be a pleasant addition in small quantities. Chefs have known this all along, and as you learn cooking online, you’ll know how to balance these tastes. Even though there hasn’t been a word for oleogustus, people know to dial it down.

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