Could It Be…A New 6th Taste?
Give me the butta’ baby; give me the butta’…or some bacon, or…ewww, even better….SOME FRIES! What can I say? I’m addicted. Like most, I can’t wait to get my hands on the newest, gluttonous burger combo meal at McDonald’s or the hottest app coming out of the fryer at my local fave eatery. Why can’t I help myself as I dive like an uncivilized beast into that bag of movie theater popcorn that’s just glistening with that liquid gold. Well, word in the science lab is it isn’t my fault (sigh of relief). I’m a victim of CD36 (and maybe some self control issues). What is CD36 you may ask? Well, back in the late 90’s and early 2000’s there were a couple of major experiments that discovered CD36, a transporter that is found in your taste buds. This plus G Protein are supposedly the duo we need to thank for making that funnel cake from the fair extra delicious. However, in order for fat to pass the test into a glorified primary taste, it has to pass 5 criteria. The initial and recent experiments have truly made a strong case for our fatty friend, and it seems as though all criteria have been met. Below is a little about taste, the simplified version of the criteria, and some proof. What do you think; do we have a 6th primary taste?
Taste & Purpose
Thank goodness we have taste buds! Stop for a moment and imagine a world without them. Yikes! They make eating far more fun and way more interesting. However, that’s not why we have those precious babies; rather, they act as a helpful tool for our bodily function. Basically, taste is used as a guide to the body on what to ingest and to tell the body what and how to digest. Currently, it is fact that we have the following 5 primary tastes and their prospective receptors, with umami recently added to the group almost 2 decades ago (by U.S.).
According to Discover, “sweet, salty, and umami are all appetitive and signal the food contains essential nutrients, while excessive sour and bitter signal aversion and potential harm.” Obviously, this doesn’t mean that eating those sour patch kids or having a hoppy IPA are harmful, rather, taste buds have different taste genes. For example, bitter flavors can actually be picked up by one or more of 25 different bitter taste genes. So, when one gene will allow you to enjoy some dark chocolate, another gene will alert you of a hazardous plant, which usually has a bitter flavor. At least, this is said to be an evolutionary result to protect our ancestors (Penn State).
Initiation Into The Group: 5 Criteria
Listed below is the simple version of the 5 criteria according to Flavour Journal with a little proof for those non-believers.
1. Fat has to be recognizably different from the other tastes.
Simply: Taste cells have to be found that can only recognize fat.
Proof: The distinct stimuli (component) is fatty acid. Fat with the help of lingual lipase, an enzyme that breaks down triacylglycerol, allows for chemical processes that result in enough concentration levels to activate receptors, thus recognizing fat (Flavour).
2. Fat must have its own way to transfer the stimuli you get from tasting something to your brain.
Simply: A presence of structures/mechanisms that can and do convert stimuli when you taste, the fatty acid, to the nerve impulses that signal the brain.
Proof: There are 4 mechanisms that work together to transfer the stimuli you get from tasting fat to your brain. Please feel free to read through it my fellow science nuts, but for those who don’t care to dive into the science jargon, CD36 and the G Protein-Coupled receptors really work together to make the magic happen.
3. There has to be proof that your brain is experiencing the taste.
Simply: When you taste, a signal must be sent from that taste cell to the areas of your brain that is responsible for processing taste.
Proof: It has been proven by studies both with our fuzzy friends and fellow humans that the primate orbitofrontal cortex, the part of the brain that deals with primary tastes and other senses, definitely gets some neuro-action when fat was consumed (Note that the fat was pure fat that stood alone).
4. When tasting, the mouth must be able to experience it independent of the other tastes.
Simply: The signal that is sent to the brain must be different than all of the other tastes. For example, it can not be a mix of tastes like sweet and salty.
Proof: So far, it is a bit more difficult to actually call out the exact “taste” of fat, but research has shown that what is not difficult, has been proven, and has shown to be reliable is the detection threshold, which is different from the other basic tastes. The diagram basically shows test results proving that at lower levels of concentration one can detect fat (fatty acid) even before they hit the threshold of being able to perceive the other basic tastes.
Relationship between chemical concentration, detection threshold and recognition threshold. The left-hand side represents chemical concentration from 0 M solution to a saturated solution. The right-hand side represents the perceptual relationship to increasing concentration and where fatty acid detection is placed in comparison to the five basic tastes. Keast and Costanzo Flavour 2015 4:5 doi:10.1186/2044-7248-4-5
5. The body must show a reaction from that taste.
Simply: The body has to show biological differences after eating fat.
Proof: There is proof in human experimentation that there is an increase in hormones, secretions, and plasma concentrations (Flavour).
A Bid Adieu
As you might not see fat listed in your or your child’s health and nutrition books under primary tastes just yet, this evidence is compelling enough to place bets on seeing it added soon, and we at Horizon Food Group know the importance of understanding taste when developing products. It seems like sacrilege just uttering the “F” word during a decade that trembles at its utterance and prides it’s self on healthy living, organic, and fat-free, but we believe fats are necessary in any truly good and balanced diet. Fats help support that much needed nourishment, not to mention brain health, and let’s face it: they make everything delicious! Of course, we can and have made baked snacks packed with traditional fats like tried and true butter, but we also like to whip up a lean and mean snack made from more contemporary fats like coconut oil, nuts, and hemp. No longer should you cringe at the word “fat” because secretly he is a dear friend, and remember that next time you reach for that tantalizing onion ring, don’t beat yourself up; it’s just your CD36 wanting it’s way. Bon Appetite!
For more info about the specifics of the study, check out the Flavour Journal and The Journal of Lipid Research for an in-depth look at the study results, and please let us know if there are any baking dreams we can help you with!