Detecting Fat Content of Food from a Distance: Olfactory-Based Fat Discrimination in Humans

S. Boesveldt, J.N. Lundstrom

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

36 Citations (Scopus)


The desire to consume high volumes of fat is thought to originate from an evolutionary pressure to hoard calories, and fat is among the few energy sources that we can store over a longer time period. From an ecological perspective, however, it would be beneficial to detect fat from a distance, before ingesting it. Previous results indicate that humans detect high concentrations of fatty acids by their odor. More important though, would be the ability to detect fat content in real food products. In a series of three sequential experiments, using study populations from different cultures, we demonstrated that individuals are able to reliably detect fat content of food via odors alone. Over all three experiments, results clearly demonstrated that humans were able to detect minute differences between milk samples with varying grades of fat, even when embedded within a milk odor. Moreover, we 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. We argue that our findings that humans can detect the fat content of food via odors may open up new and innovative future paths towards a general reduction in our fat intake, and future studies should focus on determining the components in milk responsible for this effect.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere85977
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2014


  • oral-sensitivity
  • time-intensity
  • oil preference
  • acids
  • retronasal
  • mice


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