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Humans do prefer fatty, sweet/starchy and salty. And fatty foods are rich in vitamins. How well can humans detect vitamin content apart from fattiness of food? Can humans choose the vitamin-richer of otherwise identical peanut butter, cheese or chicken leg?

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  • $\begingroup$ Do you have a source for your claim that "fatty foods are rich in vitamins"? Have you looked at the nutrition information on a bag of potato chips recently? $\endgroup$ – MattDMo Dec 19 '16 at 15:36
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Based on what I could search I guess that humans (and other organisms) usually do not have strong sensory mechanisms for micronutrients (Miyamoto et al, 2013).

There are some reports on sensing of metal ions, especially zinc and copper, by some organisms, including mammals (Bird, 2015; Ballou and Wilson, 2016). However, I haven't come across any study that talks about vitamin sensing.

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From wikipedia

A vitamin is an organic compound and a vital nutrient that an organism requires in limited amounts. An organic chemical compound (or related set of compounds) is called a vitamin when the organism cannot synthesize the compound in sufficient quantities, and it must be obtained through the diet; thus, the term "vitamin" is conditional upon the circumstances and the particular organism

A vitamin is therefore not defined by its structure but by its availability. There is therefore no taste associated to vitamins in general. So, no we are not able to sense vitamins generally speaking just because there is no natural objective category of substances that one can call vitamin.


Note by the way, that the health effect of vitamins supplmentation (for most people) is debated. For example, you might want to have a look at the following two skeptics posts

One of the most important scientist of the 20th century, Linus Pauling advocated for the health benefits of vitamin C. Due to his strong influence, the reputation of vitamin C quickly grew but his work remained controversial and there are still very little evidence that supplement of vitamin C does any good.

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  • $\begingroup$ That wikipedia article seems human-centric and lists 13 vitamins. If we limit our definition of vitamin to those, is your "no we are not able to sense vitamins" still true? $\endgroup$ – Jesvin Jose Dec 19 '16 at 12:11
  • $\begingroup$ Yes, very likely. You can have a look at the diversity of food source in which those vitamins are found and imagine a single taste would be common to them all. $\endgroup$ – Remi.b Dec 19 '16 at 16:51
  • $\begingroup$ "Note by the way, that the health effect of vitamins is debated." That's just wrong. The health effect of vitamin supplementation - at least for people without deficiencies - is debated. If you do not provide enough vitamins in your diet you will most definitely have adverse health effects. $\endgroup$ – AlexDeLarge Dec 20 '16 at 10:12
  • $\begingroup$ That was more a typo than a misunderstanding from me as this point was made clear in the last paragraph. Thanks for the comment, I edited the post accordingly. $\endgroup$ – Remi.b Dec 20 '16 at 10:15
  • $\begingroup$ This sounds wrong to me. There are certainly structures associated with the recognized human vitamins. There are no taste receptors for them, but humans also have hundreds of olfactory receptors, and for most of them the ligands are still unknown. Also, we might detect vitamins "by proxy", for example recognizing the smell of citrus fruits as "healthy", even if there is no direct receptor for ascorbate (vitamin C). I don't think we know enough about olfaction to be able to answer this question in the negative. $\endgroup$ – Roland Feb 18 '17 at 12:13

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