Tongue Diagram

What do we actually know about our tongue’s ability to taste flavor?

Tongue Break-Down

When looking at the tongue, you see tiny bumps that we know to be taste buds. These bumps are actually called papillae. Within a single papillae, you may find anywhere from 3-100 taste buds depending on the type. The tongue has four kinds of papillae: circumvallate (vallate), filiform, foliate, and fungiform.

Circumvallate and foliate papillae are found at the back of the tongue and, surprisingly, have the largest number of taste buds within them. The middle of the tongue contains the filiform papillae.  These fur-like, skinny prominences do not actually have any taste buds on them, yet cover the majority of the tongue. At the front of the tongue you can find the fungiform papillae, which usually contain 3-5 taste buds each.

Taste Bud Break-Down

With so many taste buds located on your tongue, each bud has the potential to pick up any of the “basic tastes.” The taste bud itself is made up of two types of cells: gustatory cells, which give the ability to taste, and supporting cells, which back the gustatory cells and support its function.

A taste bud doesn’t contain just one gustatory cell, but in fact may have 30-50 cells each! Located at the top of gustatory cells is a taste pore where food molecules come in contact with gustatory hairs.   The hairs then send an electrical impulse to the brain through the cranial nerve.

Once your brain receives this signal, it compares the information with your past experiences with food, thus allowing you to recognize what you’re eating. Taste buds send thousands of signals to your brain at a time, and work to identify what scientists have dubbed as the “basic tastes.”

As we continue to learn more about our ability to taste, researches are able to develop new terms and classifications to describe flavor. These new understandings and descriptions help with flavor creation and perfection.

Photos courtesy of huffingtonpost.com.