However, it remains unclear which sensory systems contribute to this ability.

"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," said senior author Johan Lundström, a cognitive neuroscientist at Monell Chemical Senses Centre in the US.

The researchers added that fat detection via smell would have the advantage of identifying food sources from a distance. To understand this, they asked participants to smell milk containing an amount of fat that might be encountered in a typical milk product - either 0.125 percent, 1.4 percent or 2.7 percent fat. The milk samples were presented to blindfolded subjects in three plastic vessels.

Two of the containers had milk with the same percent of fat while the third had milk with a different fat concentration. Participants could use the sense of smell to discriminate different levels of fat in the milk, said the research published in the journal PLOS ONE.

"We now need to identify the odour molecules that allow people to detect and differentiate levels of fat," said lead author Sanne Boesveldt, a sensory neuroscientist. Innovative methods using odour to make low-fat foods more palatable could someday aid public health efforts to reduce dietary fat intake, the study said.


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