Astonishing Facts About Taste Buds You Didn't Know | Kidadl


Astonishing Facts About Taste Buds You Didn't Know

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Food experiences would not be the same if our tongues lacked taste buds.

Imagine chewing your favorite food and feeling no taste whatsoever. If you love what you eat, you should thank your taste buds.

While we use this sensory organ every day, there are many interesting facts about the taste buds that we're unaware of. For example, did you know that the tongue is not the only organ that has taste buds? These are also found in the throat, nose, epiglottis, sinuses, and in the upper part of the esophagus. All of these influence how food tastes, although the tongue's influence is the largest. Learn more amazing facts about the human tongue and taste buds right here.

Types Of Tastes

Taste is one of the basic senses in humans. It influences our food choices and determines what to consume and what to avoid. There are different types of tastes that humans can recognize, although how many tastes exactly is still a topic up for debate.

The five basic tastes that humans can detect are sweet, sour, salty, bitter, and savory. Sweetness comes from the presence of sugar or its derivative like fructose and lactose in food. Honey, strawberries, candies, and ice cream all contain sugar in them. The presence of alcohol can also cause food to taste sweet. A sour taste is associated with foods like lemon and orange. Rotten or spoiled food can also taste sour. The presence of hydrogen ions (H+) is what imparts the taste. A salty taste is associated with the presence of salt in food. The salt can be table salt (sodium chloride) or mineral salt.

Items with a higher amount of salt in them are considered salty. A bitter taste is caused by the presence of alkaloid compounds. An alkaloid, momordicine, is what makes bitter gourd taste bitter. In coffee, a compound called 'Chlorogenic acid lactones' in excess can impart a bitter taste. The fifth taste that humans can perceive is savory. This taste is a result of amino acids like aspartic acid or glutamic acid in certain food items.

Ripe tomatoes, asparagus, and aged cheese are some of the examples that taste savory. It was added to the list of tastes in 1908 by Japanese researchers who referred to the taste as 'umami' or 'meaty.' They discovered that there were umami receptors on our tongue that are activated when we eat anything that contains glutamic acid.

Besides these five tastes, there are more tastes being researched. In his book, 'Taste and Smell: An Update,' researcher Thomas Hummel included two more tastes to take the tally to seven. The seven different tastes are sweet, sour, salty, bitter, savory/umami, hot, and cool. The tastes 'hot' and 'cool' do not refer to the temperature of food but to the sensation triggered by certain foods. For example, eating mint and menthol creates a cold sensation in the mouth. Similarly, foods like chili and pepper impart a hot taste in the mouth. You may even sweat after consuming such foods as they raise your body temperature. Scientists are looking to add as many as five other tastes to the list of tastes. These include alkaline (opposite of sour), fatty, metallic, and water-like.

The reason why there's a difference of opinions among researchers is that there's another factor that influences our sense of taste; it is flavor. Many people think that the two are the same, but they're not. Taste is the information that is interpreted by the taste buds, while the flavor is the information collected by sensory cells in the uppermost part of the nose.

The odor of the foods we eat influences how good the eating experience is. Just like taste, there are many different flavors that depend on the intensity of the odor. Fatty, alkaline, metallic foods impart different odors, which cause foods to taste different. Their inclusion into the approved list of tastes will depend on whether or not humans have taste buds to detect them.

Function Of Taste Buds

There are between 2,000-10,000 taste buds in most humans, with the average being 2,000-4,000. People with close to 10,000 buds or more are called 'supertasters', but all of them serve a single purpose.

In animals, taste evolved 500 million years ago. The only function of taste buds is to detect the taste of the foods we consume. From an evolutionary standpoint, this was important. When our ancestors were hunter-gatherers, picking the right food to eat was a matter of life and death. If we ate something that contained toxic compounds, it often resulted in death.

Foods that are poisonous taste bitter. So the taste buds detected the taste and informed us whether or not to consume the food. This quest for survival is one of the reasons why humans have 24 times more receptors to detect bitterness than to detect sweetness. Similarly, sweet taste buds allowed us to detect food that is nutrient-dense and provides energy. Most nutritious food has a sweet taste, while non-edible parts have an acrid taste.

The evolutionary reasons for other tastes are still not clear. Scientists postulate that humans developed salt taste buds on their tongues to regulate our intake of sodium and ions. Likewise, sour buds helped us to avoid spoiled or unripe foods.

Taste buds detect the taste of anything we eat.

How do they work?

Taste buds, just like other body organs, have a disciplined working mechanism. Everything in the tongue works in a particular way, which makes it easier to understand how taste buds work.

When you put food in your mouth, the compounds released from it start interacting with the tongue. The tongue houses thousands of tiny bumps, which are called taste papillae. These bumps contain the taste buds, with each bud carrying 10-50 taste receptor cells.

The buds also have microscopic taste hairs known as microvilli. Some of the cells contain protein that binds with food chemicals, while others have ion channels. When compounds are released, the taste receptors begin to analyze them. Based on the analysis, the microvilli send signals to the brain about how something tastes. The brain then creates the perception of the taste of the food you're eating. Different tastes evoke different emotions. That's the reason why someone likes cheese so much while another person prefers apple pie. But flavor influences preference as much as taste does.

When you start chewing foods, the chemicals released from them travel up to the nose. The chemicals then activate the olfactory receptors, which send signals to the brain. Together with the signal from the buds, the brain creates the sensation of flavor. So the brain has a significant role to play in your sense of taste, just like the tongue.

Another thing about taste you need to know is that taste cells are found through the tongue and not concentrated in specific areas. The 'tongue map' that states that sweet receptors are located at the tip of the tongue while sour and salty are on the sides is incorrect. While it's true that the areas are more sensitive to taste, they can detect every type of taste. The map is still taught in schools for the sake of simplicity.

Interesting Facts About Taste Buds

We use our taste buds every day to taste foods. Here are some of the interesting facts about them you should know.

People think that taste buds renew every seven years, but that's not true. The taste buds have a very short life span of about a week. The taste cells renew themselves every week.

Taste buds are invisible to the human eye. The white and pink bumps visible on the tongue are papillae.

One-quarter of the Earth's population are 'supertasters' whose senses of taste are superior to others. They can easily sense food with meaty, alkaline flavors.

Children have more taste buds than an average adult. As we age, we lose many of our buds. This partly explains why children are more picky eaters than adults.

Consuming a miracle fruit or miracle berry makes sour items taste sweet. The compound miraculin is responsible for this flavor-altering property. It binds with the taste receptors and makes the acidic food seem sweet by the brain. Sweet foods taste the same.

A stuffy nose limits our ability to sense certain flavors. That's why food doesn't taste good when we have a cold or allergy.

Volatility makes sweet foods taste sweeter. Strawberry has about 30 volatile compounds which enhance flavor and sweetness.

Scientists can influence the sense of taste by manipulating your brain cells.

The taste buds may crave savory food when traveling via airplane. That's because the sweet receptors in the tongue get suppressed while unami receptors get enhanced.

The smell of ham makes food taste saltier than it actually is. Similarly, the smell of vanilla makes something taste sweeter. This phenomenon is called 'phantom aromas.'

In some cases, genes determine our food choices and taste preferences.

The Kidadl Team is made up of people from different walks of life, from different families and backgrounds, each with unique experiences and nuggets of wisdom to share with you. From lino cutting to surfing to children’s mental health, their hobbies and interests range far and wide. They are passionate about turning your everyday moments into memories and bringing you inspiring ideas to have fun with your family.

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