Taste Buds

Taste Buds

Not all your taste buds are on your tongue (10% are on the insides of your cheeks).

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Taste buds are part of our five major sensory perceptions (see, hear, smell, touch, and taste) that allow us to differentiate the flavors found in our food. While taste is recognized as the weakest of the five senses, it still plays an important role in how we enjoy food. Taste buds are generally recognized as the small raised bumps on the top of a person's tongue, which are called papillae. These papillae have small hairs called microvilli that tell a person's brain how to interpret individual flavors. Without these microvilli, everything we eat would taste the same.

But how can the taste buds on a tongue tell the difference in a flavor? The answer can lead to some entertaining experimentation.

Each part of the tongue registers a different taste sensation. For example, the taste buds on the tip of a person's tongue register salty and sweet flavors. The sides of the tongue can detect sour flavors, and the back of the tongue picks up the bitter flavors.

Some people believe that there is also a fifth taste called "umami," which is difficult to describe taste that doesn't fall under the other four classifications. This particular flavor is said to combine with other flavors, making existing tastes more rich and intense. While the concept of a "fifth taste" is somewhat controversial in nature, Asian cooking seems more receptive to this concept.

The tongue is not the only factor in processing the flavors we perceive. The nose also plays an integral part in allowing a person's brain to recognize what is being eaten. As people chew their food, chemicals are released from the food that travels into the nasal passage, triggering the olfactory receptors to work with the tongue to decipher the "true" flavor of what a specific food should taste like. In fact, holding your nose while eating will throw off the sense of taste somewhat, as the tongue's taste buds will not be able to process the actual flavor until the nasal passages are free again.

What people may not realize, however, is that the tongue is not the only place that houses taste buds. These taste buds can not only be found on the roof of a person's mouth but to a lesser extent, the lips, cheeks, and back of the mouth. Similar to how the taste of food can be thrown off by closing off the nose, a person will notice the difference in taste without these sensory areas when one of these taste zones is accidentally burned by a piece of food that is too hot.

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