Bitterness, saltiness, sourness, sweetness and savoriness were believed to be the five senses of taste the human tongue can distinguish. There may be a sixth: tasting fat.
The Ability To Taste Fat
In a report now published in the journal Chemical Senses, German scientists write that they may have discovered receptors in the taste buds of the human tongue that specifically react to fat.
In previous experiments on animals, scientists had already discovered this receptor, called “GPR120”, and found that animals whose ability to taste fat was stronger, ate less of it. This was later replicated in humans, and the current research now identified that receptor in humans as well.
Connection Between Tongue And Brain
However, at this point it is still circumstantial evidence. So far there is no proof that the receptor really is connected to the brain and influences things there.
Wolfgang Meyerhof and Maik Behrens, two of the study’s co-authors say (my translation) that “taking this as evidence for a sixth basic taste ability is premature” and that “to establish this, you have to show that the signal generated by the fat receptor is then transported to the brain as taste signal by specialized taste cells and downstream nerve tracts.”
As fat carries the most calories of all nutrients (9 kcal per gram, compared to 4 kcal for carbohydrates and protein), it will be interesting to find out if a person’s individual abilityof tasting it influences food choices. A person with a lowered ability may be more predisposed to eat foods high in fat, simply to experience the sensation.
Picture courtesy of Dwayne Madden.