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Talking Taste Buds

Talking Taste Buds

When was the last time that you stuck your tongue out at yourself in the mirror? If you do it, you can see that your tongue is covered in small bumps. I don’t know if it’s just me but my bumps seem bigger on the underside of tongue. These bumps are called papillae and there are four different types of them, two are shown in the picture; they contain keratin, the protein in hair and nails (cats' tongues feel particularly rough because the papillae are in the shape of a hook..If you’ve ever eaten too much cihlli or sour food (sweets in my case) you may have seen these bumps swell,; stress can also cause this. However, we must thank each of our papillae (each papilla) because they contain our taste buds. There are four types of taste buds: the first are involved in detection of intense flavours and are thought to identify salt, the second type each detect for bitter, sweet or umami flavours, the third detect sour flavours and the fourth type is not well understood. Taste buds are thought to reduce in both quantity and size as we get older and smoking is thought to accelerate this process. For an average adult, cells within the taste bud regenerate every two weeks; research shows that roughly 10% of the cells in each one are created every day. It almost seems a wonder that food still tastes the same year after year.

Taste as we know it involves both the taste buds and the olfactory receptors in the uppermost part of the nose. Food releases chemicals which stimulate the nose and mouth and allow us to taste the classic five flavours: sweet, salty, sour, bitter and umami. Recently lipid sensors have been identified on the tongue suggesting that fat is the sixth flavour. Other scientists have also suggested starch as a key flavour. Different parts of the tongue contain different amounts of each type of taste bud, so each part of the tongue is specialised in detecting each flavour. Charles Wysocki interviewed hundreds of twins at the Twins Day festival in Twinsburg and found that 80% of identical twins shared views on coriander whilst only 50% of non-identical twins did, suggesting a strong genetic component. Later research identified specific genetic variants and found that they would reliably predict anyone finding coriander to taste soapy.

How you cut a food affects the taste of it too. Not only is that food’s interaction with the other ingredients in the pan changed (minced garlic will soak up the flavour of butter more than when it’s roughly chopped), but their shape affects how they cook and the resulting texture and flavour (for example more surface area may lead to more charring). Enzymes are released when you cut a food and so the more that you cut something fresh, the more that you will smell it. What a lot to think about... I guess it’s beans (umami, starch, sweet, lipid and salt) on toast (salt and starch) for dinner again. 



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