Turns out the “tongue map” is all wrong. Here's how your sense of taste really works.

Do you know why wine glasses are shaped the way they are?

The shape of the glass determines how you’ll tilt your head when you take a sip. Your tilt determines where the wine will fall on your tongue, and which taste buds will be activated first.

Can you name the four tastes? Can you guess a fifth one? Did you know that what you may have been taught about taste is wrong?

There’s bad taste, and then there’s incorrect. How many of you remember seeing a map like this in school?

It was developed in 1901 by German scientist David P. Hänig. Curious about taste perception, Hänig rounded up a group of participants and dripped distinctly flavored stimuli on different areas of the tongue.

The conclusion was that the tip and edges of the tongue were particularly sensitive to different tastes since those parts have the most taste buds. So that’s where this map and probably your general knowledge of taste comes from. But in 1974, a remarkable discovery was made that left the past few generations of scientists a little tongue-tied.

Before we get to the big reveal of 1974, you should know that a fifth taste was identified around the same time as Hänig’s experiment. A Japanese scientist named Kikunae Ikeda named ‘umami’ or ‘savory’ as the fifth basic taste, which we notice in meat broths and fermented products. If you need a more western example, think ketchup.

But since a lot of the scientists who played a role in developing the tongue map were unfamiliar with Japanese cuisine, umami went largely unnoticed until much later.

In 1974, a researcher at the University of Pittsburgh, Virginia Collings, dug up Hänig’s work and did her own taste test. She found that, not only can you taste sweet, sour, bitter, and salty anywhere on your tongue, but that taste receptors are present in areas surrounding the tongue, like on the soft palate of your mouth and on the epiglottis.

Now, this is not to say that Dr. Hänig was totally wrong. Your sensitivity to different tastes does vary in different parts of the tongue. But not enough to confine your tastes to specific regions. The problem with the tongue map is simply that it’s over simplified.

Later research showed that one taste bud has up to 100 receptors for each taste. And you ‘ve got about 10,000 tastebuds in your mouth!

So raise a glass, and toast your taste buds. Drink to your health, and to ‘Your Amazing Body.’ What’s your flavor of the month?

You can choose more than one since your taste buds get replaced about every two weeks. But as you get older, some of those taste buds don’t come back.

So try something new while you can. And who knows? You might even like it!


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