Today we’re bringing you 10 Facts about taste buds you might not have known. A hint — the elementary school text books got it wrong!
- Our tongues have one or two receptors for sweet, but at least 24 for bitter. Why is this? Plants developed toxins that would poison us if we ingested them as a way to not get eaten, and we needed to develop many receptors to detect these toxins if we wanted to survive.
- The “tongue maps” that you may have seen in your elementary school science book are wrong; you taste everything all over your tongue.
- As of now, there are still five “tastes”: sweet, sour, bitter, salty, and umami. However, researchers have recommended the addition of at least half a dozen additional tastes, including calcium and fat.
- Some flavors, such as vanilla, actually have no taste at all. If you pinch your nose shut, you will not even detect the vanilla on your tongue. Our nasal cavities contain about 400 types of receptors and control how we perceive flavor. Flavor is different from taste; we can taste sugar, but we cannot taste vanilla.
- Volatiles enhance the sweet message of our foods. Strawberries, for example, contain 30 volatiles. We interpret them as being sweeter than they actually are.
- Your first bite of a delicious food will always be the best. At the time of the first bite, dopamine is released in the brain’s reward system. The remaining bites will not compare to the first, because leptin reduces the activation of dopamine neurons in the midbrain, thus reducing the reward value of sugar.
- Although both sugar and artificial sweeteners activate the primary taste pathway in the brain, artificial sweeteners do not elicit a significant response from several brain regions of the taste-reward system. Those of us who frequently drink diet soda might be unable to tell the difference between real sugar and artificial sweetener.
- Most of us have somewhere between 2,000 and 10,000 taste buds on our tongues. Those of us with more than 10,000 are “supertasters,” which makes vegetables taste unappealing and bitter, as well as making some desserts overwhelmingly sweet.
- There is something known as the “miracle fruit” and it makes limes and other bitter foods taste deliciously sweet. Tablets of the substance behind the miracle, miraculin, can be purchased online. An Indian herb, Gymnema sylvestrae, on the other hand, blocks your sweet receptors for about 30 minutes, allowing the tastes of food that are usually blocked by their sweetness become super detectable, which is not always a pleasant experience.
- When we eat mainly processed foods, our taste buds essentially forget how real food tastes and this makes people believe that whole foods do not taste as good. By consciously cutting down on high-sodium foods and added sugars, we will slowly retrain our taste buds to appreciate the taste of whole foods again.
References and recommended reading
Greene A. 7 things you didn’t know about your taste buds. Woman’s Day website. http://www.womansday.com/health-fitness/wellness/a5789/7-things-you-didnt-know-about-your-taste-buds-119709/. Published July 18, 2011. Accessed May 6, 2016.
Greenwood V. How to hack your taste buds. BBC website. http://www.bbc.com/future/story/20141214-how-to-hack-your-taste-buds. December 15, 2014. Accessed May 6, 2016.
Kirkwood C. Tricking taste buds but not the brain: artificial sweeteners change brain’s pleasure response to sweet. Scientific American website. http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/mind-guest-blog/tricking-taste-buds-but-not-the-brain-artificial-sweeteners-change-braine28099s-pleasure-response-to-sweet/. Published September 5, 2013. Accessed May 6, 2016.
Owen D. Beyond taste buds: the science of delicious. National Geographic website. http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/2015/12/food-science-of-taste-text. Published November 13, 2015. Accessed May 6, 2016.
Seven ways to detox your taste buds – reduce sugar & salt dependency. Fooducate website. http://blog.fooducate.com/2013/11/19/seven-ways-to-detox-your-taste-buds-reduce-sugar-salt-dependency/. Published November 19, 2013. Accessed May 6, 2016.
Feature photo via source.
Erica Leon is a Registered Dietitian and practices from a Health at Every Size (HAES®) lens. She is certified as an eating disorder specialist and is passionate about helping women at midlife, menopause and beyond to make peace with food and body image.
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