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Science Of The Senses: Taste

Jul 06,2015 by Edulab

Ah taste  – where would we be without it?

Our sense of taste is so integral to our daily lives, that many of us are guilty of simply taking it for granted.

Also known as gustatory perception, taste is one of our bodies basic senses. From the earliest days of our childhood it tells us exactly what is edible and what is not, and provides an insight into what is good for our bodies, and what can be dangerous too.

Given how important our sense of taste is, it’s rather surprising how little we actually know about it, and in particular, the underlying biological mechanisms that are responsible for the sensation of taste.

However, recent advances in the field of neuroscience have provided a greater insight into the physiological mechanisms involved in the detection and discrimination of various tastes. Inspired by this, here we’re going to delve a little deeper and explore exactly how our sense of taste works – enjoy!



What is Taste?

Simply put, our sense of taste relies on the detection of certain chemicals in food. As such taste is classified as a form of chemoreception, given that it involves the detection of chemical signals.

When you eat foods, tiny molecules are released from these substances. The receptors in your taste buds then detect these chemicals and generate a signal, which is sent to the brain for further processing.

As you will probably recall, your tongue contains different types of taste receptors. Until fairly recently, scientists believed that there were only 4 basic tastes – and corresponding taste receptors – namely, sweet, salty, sour and bitter. But in more recent years, researchers have identified a 5th taste known as Umami. This mysterious taste is described as a savoury or meaty taste and can be found in everything from cheese to soy sauce.

Hence our tongue actually contains 5 types of taste receptors, these recognise the sweetness, bitterness, sourness, saltiness and savoury taste of foods.

Different substances bind with these different types of receptors and it’s this that produces different taste sensations.



From Mouth to Brain

Taste may begin in the mouth, but it ultimately ends in the brain.

Whilst the first part of gustatory perception involves recognition of certain chemicals, the second part of this process involves signal processing. Signals produced by the taste receptors in your mouth  travel to different parts of your brain for processing, and it’s this that results in the perception of taste.


It’s Not All A Matter Of Taste

As anyone who has ever experienced a cold can attest, lose your sense of smell, and your sense of taste will also be profoundly affected too. That’s because smell and taste are closely intertwined. What’s more, it’s thanks to this close relationship that we are able to perceive flavours in our food.

When we taste food, we are merely distinguishing particular chemicals that correspond to each of the 5 tastes. It’s the interactions between our sense of taste and smell that enhances our perceptions of the foods we consume.



Fun Facts About Taste:

·         Contrary to popular belief, those bumps you can see on your tongue are not actually taste buds! Yeah, we know, pretty mind blowing right?! These are actually called papillae. Your mouth contains around 10,000 taste buds and these are located on and around these bumps.


·         That’s not the only remarkable thing about taste buds either. As it turns out, taste buds are also found on the roof of your mouth and even in your throat too.


·         Remember back in school when you were told that different sections of your tongue are responsible for different tastes. Well, it turns out this was a lie! Scientists have now disproven this theory after discovering that all regions of your tongue are in fact able to detect all tastes.


·         Taste buds only live for approximately 10-14 days – but don’t worry, they do get replaced!


·         Your sense of taste decreases as you get older – this is because as you age, fewer taste buds grow back – so you might want to eat as much of your favourite foods as possible whilst you still have the chance!



We hope you have enjoyed this quick look at the science of your sense of taste. As leading suppliers of an array of laboratory supplies, here at Edulab, we can provide a wide range of scientific equipment perfect for helping you to solve a few scientific mysteries of your own.

For more information about our services, simply contact our friendly team, by giving us a call on 01366 385777 today.