According to the latest in major taste research, food’s Next Big Thing might involve chefs creating “fat bombs.” Scientists at Purdue say that they’ve added a fifth sensation to the list of five basics tastes (sour, salty, sweet, bitter, and umami), and it is … fat.
Studies have already shown taste receptors recognize fat — its creamy mouthfeel is seared into memories — but Purdue’s researchers speculated that fat on the tongue (or, more accurate, the sensation “fatty”) acts exactly like salty and sweet do as far as people’s perception of food. To test this hypothesis, they had participants eat foods packed with the five basics plus the fatty taste, which they suggest calling “oleogustus.” While that’s probably not going to happen, their results are nonetheless fascinating: Beyond having taste receptors for fat, people can also distinctly finger fatty as a taste apart from, say, umami or bitter. “The combination of those two things,” the lead researcher tells the Washington Post, “is what’s important.”
In essence, it makes fatty the gustatory equivalent of red, yellow, or blue. It’s a primary taste that doesn’t share characteristics with other primary tastes, and the authors go as far as likening its culinary impact to the art world finding a new primary color. With more research, they hope, maybe scientists will capture the essence in a “fat dust” or something, and chefs will start sprinkling a cloud of it everywhere like they do now with mushroom powder for umami. Worth noting is that plenty of other researchers believe just as strongly that there’s no finite number of primary tastes — five, six, or otherwise — because the sensation of taste is actually ridiculously complicated, less a universal thing than a variable determined by the genetics of the person eating the food.