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!

About Karen Hill

Karen Hill is a freelance writer, editor, and columnist. Born in New York, her work has appeared in the Examiner, Yahoo News, Buzzfeed, among others.

2 thoughts on “How Does Your Tongue Taste Food?”

  1. I just wanted to add a little information, which I have learned as a student of neuropsychology. I just wanted to clarify that the the localization of certain areas of the tongue in relation to specific tastes (one side detects sour, while this side detects sweet, etc) is a myth, all areas of the tongue have evenly spread out taste buds with taste cells on them for detecting the top five tastents. This may be something you are aware of. The tastents are accepted by the microvili on our taste cells, which allows for a message (action potential) to be sent down the corresponding gustatory axon. Each taste cell, has a corresponding gustatory neuron which it synapses/sends chemical messages, to. The specific neuron itself when activated, would be called a labeled line… like playing one string on a guitar…it is insignificant and our brain ignores it. However when we eat, we activate multiple neurons at a time (because multiple taste cells are receiving these tastents at a time, and sending their chemicals to their corresponding neurons) and when this happens, it is called population coding, because instead of activating one labeled line, were activating multiple at once (it would be as though switching from playing one string on a guitar, to playing an entire chord), and the brain picks up on this *pattern*, as being significant, and associates that pattern with a certain taste. I hope you dont mind me adding this, have a wonderful day!

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