7 Things You Didn't Know About Your Taste Buds

By , By Amanda Greene, of Woman's Day

You probably already know that your taste buds have something to do with your food preferences, but you’ll likely be surprised to learn how deeply those preferences are rooted in your body's survival instincts. We spoke to the experts to learn more about taste buds, and uncovered loads of surprising information, from how pregnancy can affect taste to why some people have more sensitive palates. Read on to learn seven surprising facts about taste buds.

1. You can’t see your taste buds.
Those bumps you see on your tongue when you say “ahh”? They aren’t taste buds. “Those round projections are called fungiform papillae and each has an average of six taste buds buried inside its surface tissue,” says Linda Bartoshuk, PhD, director of human research at the University of Florida Center for Smell and Taste. Specialized taste receptors inside the taste buds allow us to distinguish sweet, salty, sour and bitter—and a possible fifth taste called umami, which has a savory element––by sending a message to the brain. And you don’t just have taste buds on your tongue—they’re everywhere, from the roof of your mouth to your throat and stomach.

2. Not everyone has the same amount of taste buds.
According to Nicholas Bower, MD, district medical director at MedExpress, the average adult has between 2,000 and 10,000 taste buds. People who have more than 10,000 are considered to be "supertasters" because they taste things more intensely. “Research has shown that supertasters don’t like vegetables very much because they taste bitterness so intensely,” says Dr. Bartoshuk. “They also may find very sweet desserts, like crème brûlée, to be over-the-top sugary.” To find out where you fall on the taste spectrum, Dr. Bartoshuk recommends an easy at-home test: Apply a couple of drops of blue food color to your tongue and swallow a few times. Then examine your tongue's surface; fungiform papillae won’t pick up the dye, so they’ll look like pink polka dots on a blue background. If your tongue appears to be almost solid pink, then you have tons of fungiform papillae and may be a supertaster.

3. Taste and flavor are not the same thing.
Taste is what your taste buds pick up: sweet, salty, sour, bitter and potentially umami (the fifth savory taste). Flavor is a combination of taste plus smell, specifically "retronasal olfaction," which is how your brain registers scent when you eat something. For example, sniffing a chocolate doughnut will send a scent message through your nostrils to one part of your brain, and eating it will send a different type of scent signal to a different part of your brain. It is the scent message from eating that combines with taste to create flavor. However, according to Dr. Bartoshuk, the scent message from smelling with your nose is not involved with flavor at all (your brain knows the difference between the two).

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Did any of these facts surprise you? If so, which one was the most surprising?

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The one that surprised me the most was that women going into menopause lose their ability to taste bitter things! Report
Surprised to learn that there are more taste buds in other areas of the body. Is that why I can eat something that I find tasteful then need to upchuck it as soon as it goes down (or within 5 minute s)? Report
I'm surprised that there is such a wide difference between the number of taste buds that "average" adults have - 2000 to 10,000, that's a huge range gap. It explains a lot. Report
Not sure I agree with everything. I was a baby that would spit out sweet food and make a face. I preferred the sour taste of lemons. My daughter and granddaughters are the same way. And I still to this day despise sweets
I'm headed to the store for blue food coloring, lol (only have red in the pantry, lol) I think I'm going to try the taste test with my husband. (I'm certain he has supertasters) Report
A great way to demonstrate taste vs. flavor is to unwrap a candy that's intensely flavored (like Jolly Ranchers), pinch your nostrils closed with one hand. Pop the candy into your mouth. Rub it around in your mouth. Pay attention to what you are experiencing. Now, unpinch your nose.


Neat, Eh? This is a great experiment to do with kids. Adults enjoy it too.

The next time you've got a bad head cold and can't taste anything, you're experiencing something similar. In this case, your nasal passages are blocking the passage to the back of your throat which doesn't allow the retronasal olfaction to occur. Your swollen nasal membranes act like road blocks when they're swollen like that. Report
Very interesting. I am headed to the kitchen to look for food coloring. Report
Interesting concept about your taste buds as if we can't see them, how do you find them and that they are everywhere?!? I know, when I eat they are working. Good information, thanx! Report
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