12 January - 20 June 2016

Humans can smell fat

29 Jan 14

A study published in PLOS ONE concludes that humans can detect the fat content of products via their odour alone, and this might lead to odour-based formulation options that help to reduce fat intake.  The study involved three behavioural experiments, involving milk samples with fat percentages of 0.125%, 1.46%, and 2.8%. In Experiment 1, the team from Wageningen University sought to determine whether a USA-based consumer group (30 people) was able to discriminate between these three milk samples based only on their sense of smell. Experiment 2 repeated experiment 1 using a different population (18 people from the Netherlands). In Experiment 3, they determined whether BMI and habitual fat intake modulated an individual’s ability to detect the odour of fat, using a group of 60 US participants. Previous studies have demonstrated that humans can discriminate high concentrations of long-chain fatty acids in vapour phase both retronasally and orthonasally. This study claims to extend these findings. The research team states that its results clearly demonstrate that humans were able to detect minute differences between milk samples with varying grades of fat, even when embedded within a milk odour. Moreover, they say they found no relation between this performance and either BMI or dairy consumption, thereby suggesting that this is not a learned ability or dependent on nutritional traits.  Hence the researchers argue that their findings may open up new and innovative future paths towards a general reduction in our fat intake. They say that future studies should focus on determining the components in milk responsible for this effect.

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