US scientists believe they have identified a sixth taste for lipids – a previously unknown sense for fat.
For many years it was assumed that the human tongue could only detect four tastes – sweet, sour, salt and bitter.
In 1985 a fifth was discovered known as umani or savoury.
The researchers’ findings indicate that certain people consume more fatty foods because they are less sensitive to the fat taste.
And they believe their study could eventually be used to help combat diabetes and the growing problem of obesity.
There had been speculation in the past over the role of the CD36 receptor protein following studies involving mice.
The research team from Washington University in St. Louis has discovered that the sensitivity of the receptor differs wildly from person to person.
Their research found that people with just half as much CD36 were eight times less sensitive to the presence of fat in foods.
The findings could go some way towards explaining why some people are more disposed to eating large amounts of fatty food than others.
The researchers also believe that raising a person’s sensitivity to fat could lead them to want to consume less of it.
Tests on animals showed that a high-fat diet causes the body to produce less CD36, effectively dulling the senses to its presence.
Professor Nada Abumrad, who led the study, believes mutations in CD36 could be associated with an increased risk of insulin resistance and diabetes.
She told the Sunday Telegraph newspaper: “The ultimate goal is to understand how our perception of fat in food might influence what foods we eat and the qualities of fat that we consume.”