Sunday, April 1, 2012

The Tongue Map Myth

We have been told that our taste buds are divided into sections on the tongue that sense four different flavors, right?
Well, not so fast.

Even though there are subtle regional differences in sensitivity to different stimulants over the surface of the tongue, the tongue map zones for sweet, bitter, salty and sour has largely been discredited.

Back in 1942, researcher Edwin G. Boring sketched the tongue map and many feel the map is too simplistic and outdated.
Edwin even left out the “fifth taste,” called umami, from the Japanese for rich, meaty protein flavors.

The 1942 map also did not reflect findings that taste buds, clusters of sensitive cells, have different degrees of sensitivity to more than one basic taste and that these clusters are distributed across the entire surface of the tongue.

But still, this outdated tongue map continues to appear in textbooks even though it was based on misinformation done in the 19th century.

The tongue map shows strictly defined regional differences across the human tongue. 
The mapindicate that sweetness is detected by taste buds on the tip of the tongue, sourness on the sides, bitterness at the back and saltiness along the edges.

But researchers have known for a long time that the tongue map isn't correct. 
But somehow the this misinformation has been almost impossible to purge from the literature.

In the real tongue world, all attributes of taste can be found from all regions of the tongue that contain taste buds.

We are supposed to believe that sweet taste is at the tip of our tongue, and bitter is at the back, and other tastes should have their own place as well.

The truth is we perceive all taste qualities all over our tongue, although there may be increased sensitivity to certain qualities in certain areas.