But recent speculation it might has prompted Massey University food technology and human nutrition scientists to find out if some people can detect the taste of fat.
A team of researchers from the Institute of Food, Nutrition and Human Health in Albany hopes to bridge the knowledge gap between sensory science and metabolic regulation by investigating whether fasting has any bearing on sensitivity to the taste of fat. They say that finding out more about people’s ability to taste fat could have implications for food choices and health.
Researchers Dr John Grigor, Dr Michelle Yoo, Professor Bernhard Breier and Wenjing Li (Masters Student) want to establish if participants can detect the taste of fat, or fatty acid, when it is isolated from the creamy textures that make it so palatable in foods. Non-smoking healthy male participants aged between 18 and 50 years are wanted to take part in sensory and nutrition trials.
Taste perception triggers hormones that are crucial in the control of energy balance and appetite control, affecting food intake, fullness and metabolic regulation. “Due to the complex interactions of genetic, biological and psychological factors, the influence of fasting on the relationship between taste perception and metabolic regulators remains to be explored,” Professor Breier says. “We will also study the roles of key hormonal regulators on fat taste in a fasting state and after a meal, and the relationship between metabolic body type and fat taste.”
The experiment could help to confirm speculation that fat may be the sixth taste. Human beings respond to five basic tastes of sweet, sour, salty, bitter and umami (savoury as in soy sauce and chicken stock, officially recognised by scientists since 1985). While people experience fat through “mouth feel” (texture) and flavour, scientists have not so far pinpointed a specific taste for it.
The trials involve 40 participants who will be asked to taste three solutions, each containing varying amounts of a polyunsaturated fatty acid, before and after they have eaten breakfast. Prospective participants will first be screened for their tasting capacity as supertaster, normal taster or non-taster.
A supertaster is someone who experiences the sense of taste with far greater intensity than average. Women are more likely to be supertasters, as are Asians and Africans. For Europeans, about 25 per cent of the population are supertasters.
“There is genetic variation in the way we experience the sense of bitter taste,” says Dr Grigor. “People who have a lower threshold – who perceive bitterness at a higher intensity – for certain bitter tasting compounds are likely to avoid some bitter tasting foods, so food choice may partially be determined by our genetic make-up. What we are more interested in is a possible link with the overall intake of fat and supertaster status.”
This trial is men-only to eliminate hormonal variables that can affect results with female participants.
Men interested in participating can email Wenjing Li; firstname.lastname@example.org or call 09-414-0800 ext 9850 or 41182.