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Does you body crave the taste of fat?

You always have blamed that craving for cookies and jelly beans on a sweet tooth. However, after eating that double scoop of chocolate chip ice cream, did you figure your fat tooth was the culprit? Conventional wisdom in scientific circles is that fat has no taste and is perceived only through its feel and texture. A discovery by researcher Tim Gilbertson, Pennington Biomedical Research Center, Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge, may invalidate such thinking.

He found that fatty acids -- an important component of fats -- produce a noticeable response in the taste cells of laboratory rats. In other words, the rats taste the fat. "This is the first evidence that there is a taste receptor mechanism for fat," Gilbertson notes. Furthermore, the fatty acids appear to stimulate all taste cell -- not just specific cells as might a sweet, sour, or bitter flavor. "This may explain why we perceive fat to have no taste. Since all the cells are responding, the taste may be difficult to pinpoint. One of the major roles of our taste system is nutrient detection, so maybe identifying these fatty acids is a way we detect something our bodies need." The results haven't been tested in humans yet. "But we've played with it informally in the lab. All of us can detect [the fatty acid]. But no one can describe it."

Gilbertson suggests that understanding how fat is perceived by the taste buds may prove to be valuable information when designing fat substitutes. "The complaint most heard about fat substitutes is that they just don't taste quite right. Food scientists go to great lengths to mimic the texture and feel of fats. But they never worry about the taste because we've always assumed that fat is tasteless."

The impact of his research eventually may go beyond developing more effective fat substitutes. He points out that the taste system often plays a role in controlling appetite. For example, if your body lacks salt, your taste buds' sensitivity to it is changed to encourage you to seek salty foods. "Similarly, if we can pinpoint how the taste cells transmit information to the brain, we might be able to trick the brain into thinking it doesn't need more fat. But we're a far stretch from that right now," he admits.
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Title Annotation:research on laboratory rats indicates that fatty acids provoke a response in taste cells
Publication:USA Today (Magazine)
Date:Apr 1, 1997
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