If you’ve ever had a delicious meal, you have quite a few cells to thank. Your gustatory system–the sense of taste–is a combination of several complex processes that transmit the flavor of a food to millions of paths and receptors in your brain. Here’s a simplified version of how your sense of taste works:
- Your tongue is covered in about 100,000 taste buds that detect sweet, sour, salty, bitter and umami (or savory) flavors. Meanwhile, your olfactory system, or sense of smell, also picks up on the scent of the food.
- Your taste buds transmit “information” about the food to the gustatory cortex, a part of your brain near the back of your head. The nerves and receptors in the gustatory cortex discern the flavor and its intensity.
- Once your brain has processed the flavor, it may send information to other parts of the brain. For example, your gustatory cortex could trigger salivation or digestion; alternatively, if it senses rotten food or bitterness from poison, it may cause nausea.