You know that ice cream (or your junk food of choice) tastes good. Why does it taste so good? It’s sweet…yum. It’s creamy and rich, but that’s not really a taste…or is it?
Taste and the mouth
There are four basic tastes that everyone knows: sweet, sour, salty and bitter. We’ve introduced the less familiar fifth taste, umami – the taste of savoriness – in some posts here. The newest discovered taste is fat. When you think of “tasting” fat, you may associate it with a texture: creamy, thick, velvety, rich. This research showed that fat is more than just a texture. Your tongue has “fat” receptors that can sense whether fat is present in the food.
Tasting is just a small part of digestion. When the tongue recognizes a taste, it sends the body into action to prepare to digest the incoming food by releasing hormones. The hormones trigger appropriate responses, such as releasing additional saliva. Tasting serves as sort of a warning for your body to prepare for digestion.
The hormones released also work with your brain to let you know when you’ve had enough of a certain taste. Thus, taste helps regulate how much and what types of food you eat. This is why something as delicious as ice cream (sadly…or thankfully) gets less delicious with each bite.
New research on the fat taste
It has been known for a few years that humans can taste fat. The new research focused on finding people’s “fat threshold” – how sensitive their mouths are to fat content – through a study. The results show that people have varying sensitivities to the taste of fat. Some people can detect smaller amounts of fats in food – these people are considered to have a high-sensitivity. In the study, those who had high-sensitivity to fats consumed less fatty foods, while those who had low-sensitivity consumed more fatty foods.
It was also shown that there is a link between sensitivity, consumption and weight. Those who were highly sensitive to fatty acids, consumed less fat in their diet and generally had lower BMIs, and those who were not sensitive to fatty acids consumed more fat and had higher BMIs. BMI (body mass index) is a measurement used to study body weight independent of height and sex, and can be calculated here.
This research may help better understand obesity
The researchers hope that these findings can be used to help understand, and perhaps combat, obesity. From this study, it is not clear whether having low sensitivity to the taste of fat causes people to be overweight or being overweight causes people to have a low sensitivity. The next steps will be to understand why people have varying thresholds and to find its link to obesity.
Photo credit: Flickr Creative Commons by timsepulveda