Science on Tap to feature talk on fat as the new basic taste

November 18, 2015  

Richard Mattes

Richard Mattes 
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WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. - Richard Mattes, a distinguished professor of nutrition science at Purdue University, will headline the next Science on Tap with a talk that challenges views on taste sensations.

The talk, titled "Redefining the Sense of Taste, Is Fat a Primary Quality?" will take place at 6 p.m. on Dec. 3 in the upstairs of Lafayette Brewing Company, 622 Main St., Lafayette. The informal lecture is free and open to those 21 and older.

"The sense of taste is typically defined by a very limited set of primary sensations usually including sweet, salty, sour, bitter and, most recently, umami," Mattes said of the generally accepted list of five tastes. "We have proposed a set of criteria to objectively classify the set of sensations mediated by the sense of taste."

Mattes, one of the nation's leading nutrition scientists, will discuss evidence related to these criteria for the sensation provided by dietary fat, as well as the importance of this work across multiple fields. These findings may influence the development of fat replacements and new products by the food industry. 

"The less-than-perfect performance of current fat replacers may be due to a lack of understanding of all mechanisms for fat perception," Mattes said. "Failure to account for a taste component may compromise quality."

Mattes led a recent study outlining why he believes fat, scientifically called oleogustus, should be considered the sixth taste. Defining fat as a basic taste also may improve the clinical management of taste disorders and require a reevaluation of policies related to dietary fat exposure.

"This work is prompting a rethinking about basic physiology in humans," he said.

In addition to this research effort, Mattes and collaborators are analyzing data from more than 1,000 participants in a study related to the genetics of fat taste at the Denver Museum of Nature & Science's Genetics of Taste Lab.

Mattes received a master's degree in public health nutrition from the University of Michigan in 1978, a doctorate in human nutrition from Cornell University in 1981 and is a registered dietitian. He received the Babcock-Hart Award in 2013 and was inducted into Purdue's Department of Foods and Nutrition Hall of Fame in 2011.

A distinguished professor at Purdue since 2010, Mattes received the Elaine R. Monsen Award for Outstanding Research Literature from the American Dietetic Association in 2008.

Mattes is director of Purdue's Public Health Graduate Program and the Ingestive Behavior Research Center and is known for his research related to nuts and beverages. He also leads the Laboratory for Sensory and Ingestive Studies.

Science on Tap, led by graduate students Nelda Vazquez, Andrew Hesselbrock and Paula Cooper, provides Purdue faculty and collaborating researchers the opportunity to share research activities in an informal setting with presentations that are designed to appeal to a more general audience. Attendance at the monthly event has averaged 80 during the program's first four years. 

Media Contacts: Phillip Fiorini, 765-496-3133,

Emily Sigg, 765-494-2083, 

Sources: Richard Mattes, 765-494-0662,

Nelda Vazquez, 765-496-1487,

Andrew Hesselbrock,

Paula Cooper,  

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