We are able to taste different things because thousands of sensory cells are stimulated when we eat or drink something. The taste cells are located mainly in the taste buds on the tongue, but they can also be found in throat and on the roof of the mouth. Many of the tiny bumps you can see on your tongue contain taste buds.
When the taste cells are stimulated (when we eat or drink something), they send messages to the brain via specialised taste nerves. Each taste cell responds to one of five basic tastes: these are sweet, sour, salty, bitter and umami; umami is a Japanese word, which is often classed as the savoury taste.
Many people believe that the tongue is divided into different taste sections, like a map, but this is not the case; the taste cells are scattered around the tongue.
The relationship between taste and smell
The relationship between the senses of smell and taste is very important. Our sense of smell is often used as a warning sign and we often avoid eating foods that smell unpleasant. The nose, eyes, tongue and brain all work together to ensure that we eat good foods and avoid foods that are ‘off’ or dangerous.
Stimulating the sense of taste
As we grow up we experience a variety of different tastes, some pleasant and some unpleasant. We learn from our mistakes when we eat something nasty and we begin to develop a sense of which kind of foods we like and which kind of foods we don’t like.
In order to develop the sense of taste, it is beneficial to sample a variety of different tastes by eating lots of different foods and trying different drinks. For children, you can introduce them to new tastes and make it fun by letting them help with cooking and preparing food, letting them try different foods and encouraging them to enjoy the sensory experience created by eating and drinking.