We’ve all heard about taste buds, of course–those little bumps on our tongues that let us taste flavors–but, what are taste buds? Here are some interesting facts you may not have known about these little sensory wonders!
The bumps you see on your tongue are not actually tastebuds.
The bumps you see on your tongue are called papillae and there are all different types. They give the tongue texture and allow it to grip food. Taste buds, which line the sides of the papillae, are sensory organs that can detect chemicals dissolved in the saliva. They then send information about what they have sensed to your brain.
Taste buds detect chemicals that signal danger to the body.
So, why do we taste things? When your tongue recognizes danger, it is the first line of defense. It is strong and able to expel food before it is swallowed. Bitterness, for example, is found in many naturally occurring poisons. Your taste buds sense the bitterness, then signal the brain which tells the body that there is a potentially dangerous substance coming in. Your tongue expels the food while saliva is released in large quantities to wash away the poison and to keep you safe!
Taste buds don’t just grow on your tongue!
You have around 10,000 taste buds on your tongue, palate, throat and even in your digestive tract! Your taste buds are replaced about every two weeks. Smoking and aging cause you to lose taste buds. Older people may have only about 5,000 taste buds.
There are people, known as super-tasters, who have a lot more taste buds than the average person. These people experience flavors at about 3 times the intensity of regular tasters. Interestingly, supertasters tend to hate green vegetables, grapefruit, and coffee!
Each taste bud is capable of tasting all five of the flavors
Remember the tongue map? Bitter flavors were tasted in the back, sweet in the front, salty and sour on the sides? It turns out, that map wasn’t quite right, but it’s not all wrong, either. Certain areas of the tongue may be better at sensing certain flavors, but each taste bud is capable of sensing all five of the flavors.
- Umami (think mushrooms, meat, and fish)
Taste buds can become injured.
You have probably experienced a burned tongue. Burns injure the taste buds and diminishes their ability to work properly. Other things that can injure your taste buds are smoking, certain medicines, a vitamin deficiency, allergies, infections, and physical traumas. Your dentist will examine your tongue as a part of your routine exam to make sure your oral health is the best it can be!