Ponder the taste of fat for a minute. Is your mouth watering? It shouldn't be. While the closest you've probably come to eating pure fat was on an untrimmed steak, Purdue University researchers have isolated the taste of fat for the first time—and folks, it isn't pleasant. They began by plugging the noses of participants who tasted a variety of samples instilled with chemicals representing the five basic tastes—bitter, salty, sour, sweet, and umami (savory)—and fatty acids, considered the "building blocks of fat," per Forbes. The unique taste of the fatty acids, which researchers dubbed "oleogustus," varied by chemical structure: short-chain fatty acids tasted sour and long-chain fatty acids tasted bitter. But what came as a surprise to researchers—considering how fat, when paired with other tastes and smells, usually enhances food—was that all variations tasted terrible.
"We have a situation where one form of fat is adding to the appeal of food and may encourage intake. While with another, the taste signal is aversive, discouraging consumption," a researcher says. What gives? Researchers suggest that since fatty acids show up in rotting food, their off-putting taste may serve as a warning that what you're putting in their mouth shouldn't be there. At low levels, though, the acids' bitterness could enhance food. After all, chocolate and coffee can also be bitter, reports the Independent. Others note it may be the thick, creamy texture of fat that we adore so much, rather than the actual taste. The study author tells ABC News further study on how humans taste fat and confirmation of a sixth taste could help researchers understand how our bodies digest foods. Meanwhile, the research could lead to better replacements that mimic fat's texture and taste. (Here are 5 low-fat foods you should stop eating now.)