You have up to 10,000 taste buds, spread over your tongue, mouth and throat. Each taste bud contains between 50 and 100 taste receptor cells, which respond to different substances in your food.
These taste cells send information about the type and amount of substance to your brain. Tastes are traditionally divided into four categories:
- Salt – these taste buds are located on the sides of the tongue.
- Sweet – these taste buds are located on the tip of the tongue.
- Sour – these taste buds are located just behind the sweet taste buds.
- Bitter- located right at the back of the tongue.
- Umami – this is a Japanese word, meaning delicious and savoury, which has been shown to be distinct from saltiness. Umami taste receptors are thought to exist in the gut as well which means they may also play a part in digestion.
There’s considerable debate about the existence of a sixth taste receptor for fat, too. But new research shows The ability to taste sweet, salty, sour and bitter isn’t sectioned off to different parts of the tongue. The receptors that pick up these tastes are actually distributed all over.
Messages about taste are sent to the brain via two cranial nerves – one at the back of the tongue and one at the front. As a further counter to the idea that different parts of the tongue detected different tastes, it was shown that even if the front nerve, the chordatympani, is anaesthetised, people can still taste sweetness, which in the traditional tongue map is found at the tip of the tongue.
Different areas of the tongue can taste anything, but although some regions are slightly more sensitive to certain tastes.