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How Does the Sense of Taste Work?

The nose, which detects scent, also assists in the sense of taste.
The cone-shaped filiform papillae are the most abundant type of papillae on the tongue.
A tongue with visible taste buds.
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  • Written By: Michael Anissimov
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 14 October 2014
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The sense of taste begins with the taste buds, located on top of the fungiform papillae, or the large bumps on the tongue. Other taste receptor cells can be found on the palate and in the throat, but the tongue has the most. The fungiform papillae are shaped similar to mushrooms and sometimes swell a little when stimulated. Alongside the fungiform papillae are the filiform papillae, little brush-shaped protrusions that usually lack receptor cells.

Contrary to what you may have heard, the tongue is not divided into taste sections. This is a myth based on a mistranslation of a German book which has been perpetuated in schools since the early 1900s. If you put a tiny bit of salt or sugar on different sections of your tongue, you'll see that you can taste it anywhere.

The five acknowledged tastes are sweet, sour, salty, bitter, and umami. Umami could just as easily be called savory, but it is named after the Japanese word for the same thing because a Japanese researcher first discovered it in 1908. This discovery co-occurred with the chemical isolation and subsequent marketing of MSG as a flavor enhancer.

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Just as important to the sensation of this sense are the olfactory cells in the nose which detect scent. What we perceive as taste is a complex interplay of smelling and tongue-tasting. The nose, tongue, eyes, and brain all evolved together to ensure that we consume the good stuff and keep out the bad stuff: rotten foods, poison foods, and other indigestibles.

An important and often unmentioned component of this sense is the gustatory cortex, a section of the surface of the brain near the back, which processes taste inputs. It is located next to the parts of the brain which control chewing and swallowing. About 25% of the population are "supertasters", experiencing a heightened sense, partially due to a greater density of taste buds and partially due to subtle brain differences in how this sense is processed.

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Discuss this Article

anon265017
Post 10

This article was really helpful with my research.

anon210090
Post 9

Apart from taste, why do some people experience certain food textures as gross?

I personally don't want anything slippery in my mouth unless it's a gummy bear.

My father didn't like this at all, and offered to have me hypnotized to like onions.

anon160636
Post 8

It is really weird that people might not see the same color. What if I see green and for you my green would be blue, but you would still call it green?

anon42675
Post 5

Do we share the same sensation when we come to sweet and bitter? in fact we perceive them in the same way right?

anon33687
Post 4

For some reason with most foods i eat, i cough and gag at the taste. Even with a slight change to foods I love, I still don't like it. Is it possible that my sense of taste is causing this?

Anonymous, 14

EQoverIQ
Post 2

anon15742: i think that most people will agree that lemons are sour, a lollipop is sweet, and salt is, well, salty. i'm sure that everyone has differences in how they perceive slight nuances in taste, and our individuality also influences taste preferences. i've heard of "super tasters," who taste things much more intensely than the average person.

anon15742
Post 1

Do we have the same sensation experience of taste? since we belong to same species? or does everyone has different taste perception? How does we define sweet? how do i know the taste I taste is sweet?

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