A new study reports that two specific genes may play a role in the ability of some people to taste — and even enjoy — dietary fats.
The study, published in the March issue of the Journal of Food Science, published by the Institute of Food Technologists, looked at two specific genes: TAS2R38, a bitter taste receptor, and CD36, a possible fat receptor. Food scientists said they hope that by understanding the role of these two genes, they may be able to help people who have trouble controlling how much fat they eat.
Most food scientists acknowledge the texture of fat plays a big role in how it is perceived in the mouth. For example, ice cream is typically “rich, smooth and creamy.”
Scientists also have determined that certain fats can be detected by smell. Only recently have they begun to explore that most fats have a taste too.
In the recent study, researchers focused on one ethnic group to limit genetic variations that could reduce the ability to detect associations with the gene of interest. They determined the fat preferences and CD36 status of more than 300 African-American adults.
Investigators from the New York Obesity Research Center identified a genetic variant present in 21 percent of the African-Americans that was associated with higher preferences for added fats and oils, such as salad dressings and cooking oils. They also found study participants with this genetic variance ranked Italian salad dressings creamier than those who have other genotypes.
The other gene explored by these researchers, TAS2R38, is the receptor for bitter taste compounds. About 70 percent of U.S. adults and children are “tasters” of these compounds, while the remaining 30 percent are “nontasters,” food scientists report.
Recent study results indicate that nontasters tend to be poor at discriminating fat in foods, partly because they have fewer taste buds than “tasters.” This may lead nontasters to eat more higher-fat foods to compensate.
The researchers plan to continue examining the role of these genotypes in weight management, adding that genetic testing by the food industry may not be too far off.
Once studies like these are more fully developed, there may be a role for genotyping study participants when it comes to testing a new product, researchers say. For example, a company wanting to test out a new salad dressing may include people with different genes relating to fat perception to get a more accurate opinion. In addition, the food industry will be able to create different kinds of foods for different populations, food scientists said.