Thursday, 23 September 2010

taste test

Do you remember doing taste tests at school?

Do you remember trying to map where the different taste buds were on your tongue?

Did you always get it wrong?

Well there's a reason. The 'taste bud maps' are wrong!! Basically, it seems that these maps are constructed from a misinterpretation of the data. Wisdom now tells us that every taste bud can taste each of the five (that's right, five... you didn't think there were just four did you??) tastes. This means that you can taste sweet, salty, sour, bitter and umami (or savoury) with your whole tongue. Did you ever wonder about that great big gap in the middle that wasn't supposed to be able to taste anything?? (Read more here and here, image from here.)

I find this very interesting. Every week I take chloroquine tablets for prevention of malaria. These are extremely bitter and it takes all my self discipline to take them. But I have learnt from experience that the taste is much, much worse at the back of my tongue. Yes I can taste them all over my tongue, but nothing makes me grimace, spit and dance around as when they touch the back of my tongue.

There is still admission (sometimes reluctant) that there are regional sensitivities of some kind, although how much is debated (from here).

All very interesting. I am convinced that there are regional variations, at least there is for the bitter taste. We'll see what science reveals over the next few decades as we learn more about how taste buds actually work. And I wonder if it varies much between persons?

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