New research from the Monell Center reveals humans can use the sense of smell to detect dietary fat in food. As food smell almost always is detected before taste, the findings identify one of the first sensory qualities that signals whether a food contains fat. Innovative methods using odor to make low-fat foods more palatable could someday aid public health efforts to reduce dietary fat intake.
“The human sense of smell is far better at guiding us through our everyday lives than we give it credit for,” said senior author Johan Lundström, PhD, a cognitive neuroscientist at Monell. “That we have the ability to detect and discriminate minute differences in the fat content of our food suggests that this ability must have had considerable evolutionary importance.”
As the most calorically dense nutrient, fat has been a desired energy source across much of human evolution. As such, it would have been advantageous to be able to detect sources of fat in food, just as sweet taste is thought to signal a source of carbohydrate energy.