Myth

Different parts of our tongue can tastes different tastes.

The Tongue Map Myth

Every part of the human tongue can sense all five basic tastes. The tongue map many know from school is a incorrect and is based on a misunderstanding of an old study.[1][2]

The “old study” (1901 paper, Zur Psychophysik des Geschmackssinnes, by German scientist David P Hänig) showed that in a limited number of subjects, some parts of the tongue tended to be more sensitive than others. This paper, published in German, was misinterpreted and the misinterpretation stuck.[3]

Funnily enough, although specific people may be more sensitive to a specific tastes on a specific parts of their tongue, science shows that in general, there isn’t a difference between any taste buds in the human body.

All taste buds have the same amount of receptors regardless of where they are located, thus logically there shouldn’t be a difference on a psychological level.

FACT: You don’t just taste with your tongue, you also have taste buds in your soft palate and throat.

The Tongue Map is a Myth

How Does Tasting Work?

What we generally consider taste is actually a combination of sensations impacted by factors like the taste perceived by the tongue, soft pallet, and throat, smell, texture, and temperature.

Other factors aside, what we perceive as taste with our taste buds is our taste buds detecting interactions with different molecules or ions.

Depending on what is detected, it results in us perceiving one or more of the “five established basic tastes”: sweetness, sourness, saltiness, bitterness, and savoriness.

Every part of the tongue has the same tastes buds and same receptors and thus every part of the tongue has the same ability to taste.

FACT: According to Wikipedia (which cites Human Physiology: An integrated approach 5th Editidon -Silverthorn, Chapter-10, Page-354), “Sweet, savory, and bitter tastes are triggered by the binding of molecules to G protein-coupled receptors on the cell membranes of taste buds. Saltiness and sourness are perceived when alkali metal or hydrogen ions enter taste buds, respectively.” For more reading see How does our sense of taste work?



Conclusion

As noted above, every part of the tongue has the same tastes buds and same receptors and thus every part of the tongue has the same ability to taste. Of course, science aside, one can just try tasting something salty, sour, sweet, bitter, and savory and test this out for themselves. The bottom line, the tongue map is oddly wrong, we should probably stop using that to explain how tasting works.


Citations

  1. Taste. Wikipedia.org.
  2. How does our sense of taste work? NIH.Gov.
  3. That neat and tidy map of tastes on the tongue you learned in school is all wrong. Theconversation.com.


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