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Your ‘Mystery’ Taste Receptor

Can you name the five human taste receptors? Most of us think of sweet, sour, salty… from there maybe some of us will remember bitter. But I bet you wouldn’t have guessed umami.

Umami is a Japanese word meaning “savory.” It’s attributed to responding to the taste of meats and cheeses. I dug up an audio piece that examines the history of umami and the controversy over whether it exists at all.

But wait, there may be more!

Do you wonder why you crave fried or fatty foods? When you drive by a fast food restaurant does it seem to have a magnetic pull? The answer, again, may be in your taste buds. Scientists have discovered taste receptors in the tongue that sense fat.

Some researchers believe having taste receptors for fat may have had evolutionary implications, in that it helped ensure animals eat a high energy diet when food was scarce.

With those of us in the Western world not having a problem with food being scarce, the fat taste receptor poses a bit of a problem.

“There is evidence that obesity may be associated with an abnormal brain response to the sensory perception of a meal,” says Professor Nada Abumrad of Washington University School of Medicine in St Louis, Missouri.

October 15th, 2008