Penguins Can’t Taste Umami. Eat Fish Anyway.


Image ID: corp2417, NOAA Corps Collection, Photographer: Giuseppe Zibordi, Credit: Michael Van Woert, NOAA NESDIS, ORA [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Who doesn’t love reading about penguins?

In the seemingly random fashion of the internet, this study out of the University of Michigan was recently picked up by another blog (, where the above image featured. We think it’s interesting.

Original U Michigan coverage of the study findings are excerpted here:

“ANN ARBOR—A University of Michigan-led study of penguin genetics has concluded that the flightless aquatic birds lost three of the five basic vertebrate tastes—sweet, bitter and the savory, meaty taste known as umami—more than 20 million years ago and never regained them.

Because penguins are fish eaters, the loss of the umami taste is especially perplexing, said study leader Jianzhi “George” Zhang, a professor in the U-M Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology.

“Penguins eat fish, so you would guess that they need the umami receptor genes, but for some reason they don’t have them…”

Read the whole article here: “Sweet, bitter, savory: penguins lack three of the five basic tastes”


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