A Map of Good Taste? | God's World News
A Map of Good Taste?
Science Soup
Posted: March 01, 2024
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    Your taste buds help you know if something tastes good or bad. (Getty Images)
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    The taste buds are inside tiny tongue bumps called papillae. This is what they look like under a microscope. (123RF)
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    The tongue map says that section 1 tastes bitter things, 2 tastes sour, 3 tastes salty, and 4 tastes sweet. But that’s not quite right. (MesserWoland/GFDL and CC-BY-SA-2.5)
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    Meat and parmesan cheese have umami flavors. (Pixabay)
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    Seaweed also has a rich umami taste. (123RF)
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What’s a Taste Bud?

Find your taste buds inside tiny tongue bumps called papillae. Besides tasting, taste buds also help keep you alive. They let your brain know when something tastes good. This makes you want to eat. They also let your brain know when something is a major yuck. That could save you from getting poisoned by rotten food.

A Tongue Map?

Which part of your tongue tastes sour candy? Which part tastes sweet treats? Salty fries? Bitter coffee?

For a long time, people thought certain parts of the tongue were loaded with flavor-specific taste buds. During the last century, many kids in school learned about the “tongue map.” The popular diagram showed that human tongues tasted sweet stuff in the front. Salty and sour taste buds lived on the sides. Bitter taste receptors hung out at the back.

But that isn’t exactly right.

Back in 1901, scientist David P. Hänig published a paper about the tongue. The paper described his good experiment: He dropped salty, sweet, sour, and bitter tastes around different parts of the tongue. The result? Different parts of the tongue took longer to pick up on certain tastes. But the differences between the sections were teeny-tiny.

The popular “tongue map” followed Mr. Hänig’s study. The diagram makes it look like tongue parts each pick up a different taste. As Smithsonian Magazine notes, it’s truer to say that “some parts of the tongue were slightly more sensitive to certain tastes than others.”

Another missing piece: Mr. Hänig’s work didn’t test for umami, or savory, taste. You find umami in seaweed, soy sauce, meat, and parmesan cheese.