Cats may have a preference for tuna after all, primarily because of their love of the umami-savory flavor, an August report from Science magazine revealed.
The industry-funded study was originally published in the peer-reviewed Chemical Senses journal by lead scientist Scott J. McGrane.
The feline obsession with fish, and especially tuna, has a long history of pop-culture references. Yet, having evolved in the desert, the felines' unique preference has long puzzled scientists.
“I think umami is as important for cats as sweet is for humans”Yasuka Toda, Meiji University
This latest study revealed that cats' taste buds are uniquely geared toward tasting ‘umami’, a term that describes the deep, savory flavor of foods that are neither sweet, sour, or bitter.
“This is an important study that will help us better understand the preferences of our familiar pets,” said Yasuka Toda, a molecular biologist at Meiji University who specializes in studying the unique umami taste experience in animals. Toda hopes that this latest research will improve the products and medications sold by pet companies.
Experiments by the researchers showed that cat tongues have two of the same taste bud genes as humans and other animals for tasting umami foods. The team engineered cells to act like the taste receptors of a cat, and discovered that whilst cats share similar taste buds, they respond differently to stimuli.
When exposed to amino acids and nucleotides, human taste buds will bond first with the amino acids and then the nucleotides.
However, in cats, the order is reversed, suggesting a different taste experience.
This was further compounded when cats were presented with water, with and without compounds frequently found in tuna. The cats universally preferred the compound-infused water, further suggesting that cats have a specific preference for the umami taste.
Tuna is candy for cats
“I think umami is as important for cats as sweet is for humans,” Toda says. Dogs, she notes, can taste both sweet and umami, which may explain why they’re not such fussy eaters.