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Sweet, Sour, Salty, Bitter, Protein ... and Now Fat 210

Posted by timothy
from the visit-the-chiba-clinic-for-an-upgrade dept.
ral writes "The human tongue can taste more than sweet, sour, salty, bitter and protein. Researchers have added fat to that list. Dr. Russell Keast, an exercise and nutrition sciences professor at Deakin University in Melbourne, told Slashfood, 'This makes logical sense. We have sweet to identify carbohydrate/sugars, and umami to identify protein/amino acids, so we could expect a taste to identify the other macronutrient: fat.' In the Deakin study, which appears in the latest issue of the British Journal of Nutrition, Dr. Keast and his team gave a group of 33 people fatty acids found in common foods, mixed in with nonfat milk to disguise the telltale fat texture. All 33 could detect the fatty acids to at least a small degree."
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Sweet, Sour, Salty, Bitter, Protein ... and Now Fat

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  • Just the fact that people can detect fatty acids in their non-fat milk doesn't imply that there is an actually taste receptor for fat. Could also be the change of texture of the milk or activation of other taste receptors by the fatty acids. I would only call this a specific taste when the associated taste receptor protein is identified.
    • by j00r0m4nc3r (959816) on Wednesday March 10, 2010 @05:31PM (#31431260)
      Just the fact that people can detect fatty acids in their non-fat milk doesn't imply that there is an actually taste receptor for fat. Could also be the change of texture of the milk or activation of other taste receptors by the fatty acids. I would only call this a specific taste when the associated taste receptor protein is identified.

      I'll notify the British Journal of Nutrition that their published research is invalid.
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by pookemon (909195)
      "mixed in with nonfat milk to disguise the telltale fat texture"

      Perhaps you missed that part of the summary (let alone TFA).
      • by wjousts (1529427) on Wednesday March 10, 2010 @05:44PM (#31431426)
        So I've only read the abstract of the paper [cambridge.org] and they really don't claim that fat is "tasted", just that some people are able to detect it and they link that ability to BMI. Whether they are really tasting or just detecting some other physicochemical effect is still unclear. There are a lot of different senses involved when you put something in your mouth. There is a lot of evidence that suggests that fat is a taste, but so far nobody has presented a receptor for it.
        • by blair1q (305137)

          Given that the essential problem is that "taste" is a fairly unscientific word, "other physicochemical effect" pretty much fits in.

          We do most "tasting" with our olfactory system, not our tongues.

          Clearly these guys are saying, specifically, the tongue can detect fat.

          It's unquestioned that anyone can "taste" fat using their entire physiochemical food-analysis system, if they aren't so enmired in the fast-food culture that they don't know what something without fat tastes like.

          But the question this raises is,

          • by TheLink (130905)
            > Clearly these guys are saying, specifically, the tongue can detect fat.

            Do they? There are lots of other surface areas in the mouth.

            Anyway it could be that humans can smell the fatty acids even "through" the milk.
    • by mpapet (761907)

      While your goal of identifying the biologic source of the fat sensors is worthy, human behavior dictates something *must* detect fat content separately from texture. Food scientists have long been able to replicate the texture and mouth feel of fats.

      A simple experiment, have three anonymous samples of cow's milk, one each full-fat, 2% and 1%. The vast majority of humans enjoy the 1% the least.
      You can vary the beverage or food to take into account cultural tendencies and the results are the same. The lowe

      • Re: (Score:2, Offtopic)

        Sure, no question about that. I am just interested how that works.
        • by omris (1211900)

          While it will be interesting if and when such receptors are identified, the first logical step (before attempting to screen every single expressed receptor present in taste buds) is to test to see if it is possible to detect very small quantities of fat. If it isn't, you just saved a few million dollars of grant money. Curiosity is great, but don't be impatient. This is still neat.

      • by mattack2 (1165421)

        If I use 2% milk on cereal after being used to non-fat, the 2% seems very thick.

        I didn't RTFM, but that's why it seemed like using non-fat milk was surprising.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by HEbGb (6544)

      You're right. I'd imagine the fault is not with the original paper, it's in the interpretation of this paper by the popular press. We see this again and again.

    • Could this explain why real butter and fake butter taste so much different to me? Growing up, I never noticed the difference. Then, for a few years, it tasted kind of like real butter has onions and garlic in it. It was to the point where I couldn't eat popcorn if the theater used real butter. I couldn't eat toast if it had real butter. It left a taste in my mouth similar to if I had gone out and licked a homeless person. It wasn't psychosomatic or texture-based. Up to that point, I would always pick
      • by Vrallis (33290)

        It left a taste in my mouth similar to if I had gone out and licked a homeless person.

        Part of the issue with so many people not liking real butter is that it is notorious for absorbing odor/taste from the air around it. An unclean refrigerator or just one with lots of food that isn't 100% sealed will result in the butter absorbing those flavors, making it rather nasty.

        You just have to store butter properly and you can generally get rid of this. Of course this leads to my own personal issue--real plain butter (generic salted sweet cream butter) has little to no flavor to me compared to marg

      • by aXis100 (690904)

        Personally I think Fat it is more of a texture than a taste. I can feel a greasy residue in my mouth after drinking full fat milk or real butter, versus low fat milk or margarine.

        The small size of fat globules is what makes things taste creamy - which is why modern low fat ice cream is getting better, they've been able to substitute other compounds with a small grain size. Any larger and it tastes pastey.

      • by X0563511 (793323)

        It left a taste in my mouth similar to if I had gone out and licked a homeless person.

        That's what she said!

        Couldn't help it. Sorry.

  • There is the Calcium [dailymail.co.uk](www.dailymail.co.uk) taste buds which were not listed, and I'm sure there have been others discovered.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by BKX (5066)

      First, did you actually read the article you linked to? It clearly states that they don't believe that we have an extra calcium sensing taste bud, but that our existing taste buds detect calcium as bitter, and therefore people who are sensitive to bitter (and don't like it) tend not to eat enough calcium as a result.

      Second, there are probably a whole bunch of tastes we can detect that we don't list as having special taste buds. Picante* comes up high on the list (and is an important consideration in many cu

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by jedidiah (1196)

        Picante has also been described as ALL of your tastebuds being forcibly activated at once in a sort of brute force sort of way as if they had been forced open by crowbars.

        So Picante is just gastronomic napalm.

        • by Gilmoure (18428)

          Or the start of really good chili.

        • Picante has also been described as ALL of your tastebuds being forcibly activated at once in a sort of brute force sort of way as if they had been forced open by crowbars.

          I like the imagery... but it leaves out one set of receptors that is triggered by picante: surface pain receptors.

          That is, unless you consider pain a taste sensation, in which case my^H^H a dominatrix can give you the best meal you've ever tasted.

      • by cromar (1103585)
        I may be mistaken, but I think it is generally considered that spicy or picante does not have a flavor receptor and that the picante experience can be attributed to chemicals that cause irritation in our mouths. It's funny to me that in the West we have known of savory foods for thousands of years, and yet many did not pay attention to that realm of cuisine, or at least not attribute the status of flavor to it. It has certainly been used to great affect in almost every culture I can think of! I guess it
        • In German the equivalent to the English "hot" (in taste) is "scharf" which means literally "sharp" as in "a sharp blade". This is different from the word for high temperature (which is "heiss", meaning again "hot" in English).

          I have always found "sharp" to be a fairly usable description of that somewhat painful taste and one that is less likely to be confused with actual temperature than "hot".

          • I just differentiate by saying stuff like "spicy flavour", "spicy as in hot", or "hot as in temperature" etc when there is possible ambiguousness.

            Personally if I were to relate the word sharp to a flavour I would probably relate it to the bittersweet taste you get from citrus fruits!

        • by Xtravar (725372)
          <quote>PS It <em>is</em> very annoying when you want to describe picante foods and you lose nuance of meaning because of the overlap between hot and spicy. Thanks for pointing out a better word to use to describe that flavor!</quote>

          What about... "zippy"? It's an English word, and it makes you seem like a senior citizen!
        • by jc42 (318812) on Wednesday March 10, 2010 @07:20PM (#31432514) Homepage Journal

          I may be mistaken, but I think it is generally considered that spicy or picante does not have a flavor receptor and that the picante experience can be attributed to chemicals that cause irritation in our mouths.

          Yeah; you probably are mistaken. ;-) For a long time, there has been a bit of a medical mystery about how hot peppers produce a sensation that feels like major heat damage, but medical tests can't detect any actual tissue damage of any sort. This was answered a few years ago by some researchers who determined that the capsaicin chemical that does the job targets specifically the nerve endings that detect heat, and tricks them into sending a false signal to the brain saying "I'm being burned!"

          An interesting aspect to this was verification that capsaicin does target specifically mammalian heat sensors, and doesn't work with birds. Anyone who has pet birds is familiar with this. Seed mixtures intended for birds such as parrots usually contain hot peppers, which the birds like. I like to grow my own hot peppers in pots that I bring in during the winter. I have to protect them from our pet conure and cockatiels, because they'll land and the plants and devastate them. When I decide to pick the ripe ones, the conure especially is right there demanding samples of the harvest, which she devours whole.

          Further research is needed on the topic, but the hypothesis is that hot peppers evolved their "hot" chemical explicitly to distinguish between mammals and birds. Pepper seeds have a thin, leathery shell which doesn't survive the long, slow digestive system of most mammals. But birds can't afford to carry food around for long; they have a short, powerful digestive system that extracts just the easily-digested stuff and dumps the rest after only a few hours, because it would take more energy to transport it than it contains. The leathery shells of pepper seeds do survive a bird's digestive process. So the hypothesis is that peppers are specifically encouraging birds as seed-transport agents, and discouraging mammals that would digest the seeds.

          There's some sort of biological irony in the fact that hot peppers have been spread from their origin (South America) to the rest of the world by a mammal (us). Of course, we can easily do something that's difficult for other mammals: We can dilute the hot pepper enough that it's just a minor (or not so minor) flavor mixed with other flavors, and not overpowering as it is if you eat the pepper alone.

          In any case, to be on topic, we should note that the hotness of hot peppers isn't really a "flavor". It's more a case of our heat sensors being tricked by a chemical produced by plants that are trying to prevent us from eating their fruit and digesting their seeds.

      • by Chris Burke (6130)

        (This is the Spanish word for the hot kind of spicy. In English this is sometimes called piquant (from French), but that word can also mean spicy in a more general sense (think Christmas spice)

        The adjective to describe something with e.g Christmas spice in it in English is "spiced".

        I.e. "Captain Morgan's Spiced Rum", as opposed to "Captain Morgan's Spicy Rum" which sounds both scary and awesome. /me considers that he possesses both Captain Morgan's Spiced Rum and Tabasco sauce...

        Anyway yeah I do like the Sp

      • by steveha (103154)

        Hot is also a bad word for picante since it can also refer to temperature, and when talking about food, we need to differentiate somehow.

        According to the Jargon File [wikipedia.org], the hacker slang has a term that means the same thing you called picante. The term is: zapped [catb.org]

        I don't know how common it is, but I have used it for years. It's a useful distinction to make and deserves a word.

        steveha

  • Protein? (Score:3, Informative)

    by Chris Mattern (191822) on Wednesday March 10, 2010 @05:29PM (#31431232)

    It took me a few moments that by "protein" they actually mean the so-called "fifth flavor" often referred to by the Japanese word umami "savory".

    • That kind of confused me, the umami taste is caused by glutamates which are sometimes found in protein heavy foods but also come from such random places as tomatoes, seaweed or a number of fermented sauces. Protein doesn't really have anything to do with it.

      • Re:Protein? (Score:4, Informative)

        by Mindcontrolled (1388007) on Wednesday March 10, 2010 @05:37PM (#31431346)
        Glutamate is an amino acid that makes up proteins. The receptor recognizes it in its unbound form, not in the form incorporated in proteins, though.
      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by RManning (544016)

        That kind of confused me, the umami taste is caused by glutamates which are sometimes found in protein heavy foods but also come from such random places as tomatoes, seaweed or a number of fermented sauces. Protein doesn't really have anything to do with it.

        Actually, it does. All those "random places" you list contain protein. Don't mistake protein and meat.

    • Re:Protein? (Score:4, Insightful)

      by amRadioHed (463061) on Wednesday March 10, 2010 @05:39PM (#31431362)

      You mean it took you a few minutes to get to the third sentence in the summary where it said just that?

      • Re: (Score:2, Flamebait)

        by Miseph (979059)

        He clearly attended an American public school. Have mercy, and be glad it was more intelligent at least than "hurk durk football Budweiser muh dick".

        Full disclosure: I am a product of American public education. I mean... hurk durk football Budweiser muh dick.

        • I knew schools here were going down hill but have they really started making everyone sound like the swedish chef from the muppet show now?

      • Except that since umami has nothing to do with protein detection, the third sentence has no relationship to the title.

    • Exactly. Just that “protein” is in no way “umami”.
      There actually are people saying that they found separate protein buds. But it’s not confirmed, as far as I know.

  • by Misanthrope (49269) on Wednesday March 10, 2010 @05:30PM (#31431236)

    What the summary doesn't mention is that the BMIs of the sample group were inversely proportional to their ability to sense fat.

    • by tool462 (677306)

      The article actually does mention that (more or less).

      Allow me to be the first to diagnosis myself with this horrible disease!

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by brian0918 (638904)
      Except of course that most obesity is caused by insulin resistance, which in turn is caused by continual spiking of insulin from increased blood glucose, which in turn is caused by continual consumption of highly-refined carbs. So while fat people certainly eat fatty foods (as does everyone else), the root cause of their obesity is the refined carbs in their diet, not the fat.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by jedidiah (1196)

        Well, that's just today's obesity which is an effect of the relatively recent demonization of fat.

        People ran away from fat and there was sort of a nutritional backlash.

        It also didn't help that the inherently unbalanced and politically motivated "new" food pyramid did not account for American eating habits.

        Result: "remove fat, replace with refined carbs and no fiber"

      • Except of course that most obesity is caused by insulin resistance

        The main point of the study is that there seems to be a correlation between obesity and a person's ability to taste fat. You blatantly contradict this with your post. Would you care to cite your sources?

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by RManning (544016)

        As someone who has gone from obese to quite trim, I can tell you that in my experience obesity is caused by taking in more energy than you burn, period! I cut the amount of calories i take in, and I lose weight. I add calories, I gain. I was never a carb eater, just a "too much" eater. Of course, carbs are really high calorie, so generally cutting calories mean cutting carbs. But, I'm not convinced the type of food is nearly that important.

        That's my long winded way of saying: citation needed. :)

        • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

          by camperdave (969942)
          in my experience obesity is caused by taking in more energy than you burn, period!

          That's the easy way out. You're never going to sell any diet books like that. You've got to have a "system", and if you can tie it into merchandise, especially consumable merchandise like food, then so much the better.
        • by Belial6 (794905)

          obesity is caused by taking in more energy than you burn, period!

          What is it like living without an anus?

    • by SirGarlon (845873)
      Actually, I've noticed that when my wife tries to substitute a low-fat ingredient into her baking, she insists it tastes the same and I can always tell. Guess which of us has a higher BMI? Generally my approach is to eat fatty foods less often rather than to eat reduced-fat variants, which just don't satisfy. Except for Cheez-It crackers. For some reason the low-fat version of those tastes better.
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by spun (1352)

        Many flavors are soluble in fat, but not water. When creating low fat versions of high fat dishes, you must always adjust the seasoning to account for this.

      • by katz (36161)

        I've noticed that if I eat Chinese food after I haven't had any for a long period of time, it often tastes too "rich" for me. Nothing some more helpings of it over the next two weeks won't cure ;)

    • by blair1q (305137)

      Since BMI isn't proportional to body composition, I say you're full of McNuggets.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday March 10, 2010 @05:32PM (#31431278)

    You know... for when you're testing 9 volt batteries.

    • by rubycodez (864176)

      yeah, what moron put the terminals of car and deep cycle marine batteries so far apart? have to use a damn meter then.

  • by ichthus (72442)

    The PopSci article I read a couple of years ago named "savory" as one of the taste buds' senses. Maybe this is the same as fat sense, since nothing fat-free tastes as good as its fat-...not free counterpart.

  • with all these different taste receptors, why can't i taste my own tongue?

    • Re:but why? (Score:5, Funny)

      by snspdaarf (1314399) on Wednesday March 10, 2010 @05:53PM (#31431578)
      Bite down on your tongue. It tastes painful.
    • with all these different taste receptors, why can't i taste my own tongue?

      You probably do to some extent, but since it is always there your brain doesn't consider it special. An interesting question might be whether you can taste another person tongue, and I guess I should mention just how daft the joke about slashdotters romantic achievements is, before somebody decides to make it in response to my post

      • Re:but why? (Score:4, Informative)

        by somersault (912633) on Wednesday March 10, 2010 @07:44PM (#31432700) Homepage Journal

        For some reason even if I initially notice the smell of someone's breath when kissing, it goes away after a second or two. I wouldn't say I have ever tasted another person's tongue, though I have detected hints of chocolate after she apparently only had one malteser in the past 20 minutes or so.

        I think you are more likely to taste your own tongue after you try brushing it with some toothpaste to get your tastebuds all confused. I'd say it's likely to just be the taste of your own saliva though rather than your tongue actually having a taste of its own. You could always just try eating it..

        Wow this is a strange conversation.

  • It kind of gets me that we use the word "umami" to describe the (supposedly) newly found taste of proteins (glutamates, etc.) Why can't we anglophones just keep calling that sensation the same as we have for hundreds of years: "savory." I just think it's funny is all :)

    Come to think of it, though, maybe it is just this way in America. It seems like we went through a culinary dark ages for a half century, or so, not everywhere, but in a lot of kitchens. Maybe it was the Great Depression or the advent
    • by jedidiah (1196)

      Why not let the guy that discovered it name it? He kind of has it coming to him.

      It just so happens that this guy is Japanese.

    • by dangitman (862676)

      Why can't we anglophones just keep calling that sensation the same as we have for hundreds of years: "savory." I just think it's funny is all :)

      Because "savory" is not a direct equivalent to "umami."

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by canajin56 (660655)
      Because we used "savory" to mean "pleasing" which describes all kinds of good things. Unless you're European, in which case you mean "savoury" as in the course that follows pudding, usually pickled fish, toasts, or brandied fruits, few-to-none of which are "savory" like you're trying to twist and bastardize the word into meaning. We've not ever referred to glutamates as "savory". If we've ever referred to a specific taste as the "savory" taste, it's been aromatic herbs, not glutamates. PS "savory" comes
  • I wonder if taste can ever be broken down into components, like colour/sight can be broken down into three primary colours, or how sound can be broken down into collections of frequencies.

  • i.e. sour?

  • Meh, I just feel fat.

  • Relieved to see TFA was about tastebuds: When I saw the title I thought somebody had published the story of my life!
  • What’s with umami? That one’s proven (the receptors are found), and well-known.
    Protein is not umami. And protein isn’t even proven yet.

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