Humans have a taste bud for fat

By Staff Writer • Published: March 28th, 2014
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

Salty, sweet, sour and bitter. But what if humans could taste carbs … or protein? It would make for some interesting menu descriptions, to say the least.

Well, according to researchers at the Washington University School of Medicine at St. Louis, we can taste fat — for real. The study, published in the journal Journal of Lipid Research, is the first to pinpoint the taste bud gene receptor known as C-D-36. The strongest variant of the gene can make people up to eight times more sensitive to the taste of fat than people whose bodies made less of the protein.

It should come as no surprise that both humans and animals prefer fatty foods. Scientists used to think that people homed in on high-fat foods by texture, but this latest research suggests that the mere presence of fat can change the way our tongues recognize it. The studies started in rats, and scientists found that when they were genetically engineered without a C-D-36 gene, they lost their taste for fat. And animals that can’t make the gene on their own consequently can’t digest fat.

This news could resonate with the 20 percent of people believed to have the variant that makes them much less sensitive to the taste of fat in food. But until scientists find a way to safely solve the fat gene problem in humans, a few simple tricks in the kitchen can tame your taste buds into thinking they’re tasting fat.

Flavor your favorite dishes with plenty of garlic, spices and citrus zest, not fat. Toasting or roasting some ingredients can enhance their already delicious flavor. Instead of deep-frying foods, lightly pan-fry them in a bit of oil to mimic that addictive crispy, crunchy texture. Cut your cholesterol intake in half by using part real egg, part egg substitute in egg dishes like frittatas and omelets.

A few tradeoffs here and there can save you lots of trouble down the road.