Examining Fat as a Taste
Is fat a distinct taste? Should it be added to the list of primary tastes: salt, sweet,
bitter, sour and umami (savory)? Could the taste of fatty acids be a warning
signal that something is rancid or unwholesome fat?
Those are questions Richard Mattes has been asking for two decades, examining
the functions of fat taste in health and disease. He’s a distinguished professor
of nutrition science, co-founder and director of Purdue’s Ingestive Behavior
Research Center and director of the College of Health and Human Sciences’ new
public health program.
Once dietary fat is merely tasted, it mobilizes fat stored in intestinal cells from
the previous eating event, rapidly elevating triglyceride levels. In one study,
Mattes found that exposures of 10 seconds (one taste), 5 minutes (simulating
a snack) or 20 minutes (simulating a meal) led to rapid triglyceride rises in 88
percent of participants. His work has also documented the novel finding that
fatty acids are detected by the sense of taste (not just the olfactory and tactile
Now, in a new study, Mattes is collaborating with the Denver Museum of
Nature & Science to investigate a possible genetic basis for the human ability
to taste fatty acids. The study will enroll 3,000 participants over two years to
better understand the individual variability in fat taste and how it relates to
dietary fat intake and body fatness.
“Understanding the taste of fat will provide insights
about our biological systems, how to develop food
products to optimize health and improve public health
recommendations about diet and chronic disease risk
reduction,” he says. | L. T.
at Purdue. Other varieties — from the early-ripening,
glossy-red Dayton to the late-maturing, deep-red
Enterprise and Juliet — are produced by local growers
worldwide, all from a program designed to combat the
ubiquitous and costly apple scab disease. Organic apples
have increased their appeal.
The PRI collaboration began in the mid-1940s with
Illinois researchers crossbreeding apples with the
naturally scab-resistant crabapple and Purdue screening
the cultivars for scab. Janick, who
has continued in his own hybrid research
since the PRI program ended a few years ago, says
that taste, texture and storage ability — not just
disease prevention — have always been priorities.
“Apples are for eating, and in the final analysis,
they have to be something you relish and enjoy,”
he says. | A.R.
PHOTO COURTESY OF JULES JANICK