How Does Your Tongue Taste Food?

Look in the mirror and stick out your tongue. See the little bumps on the surface of it? Inside each of these little bumps, or papillae, are about a dozen tiny organs called taste buds. There are also taste buds in three places in your throat. Not all tastes are detected by the same taste buds. Each group of taste buds in different areas of your tongue and throat helps you recognize different types of taste sensations: sweet, sour, salty, and bitter.

When you put a piece of food in your mouth, the chemicals in it alert the taste buds to carry “taste messages” through your nerve cells to your brain. It is in your brain that you actually become aware of the taste of something.

Since your food and your tongue must be moist for the taste buds to start working, your body sends out saliva to mix with any dry foods. To understand how this works, you can try an experiment. Wipe your tongue very dry and then put a lump of sugar in your mouth. Do you find that you cannot taste the sugar? That’s because your body hasn’t yet started to produce the saliva to dissolve the sugar for you to taste. However, in a minute or two, when that saliva is produced, you are able to taste it.

You have about 3,000 taste buds on your tongue!