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5 Tips to ImproveYour Sense of Taste

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January 1, 2008, Last updated May 14, 2014

By Sara Ott, Associate Editor and
Featured Columnist

Stick out your tongue.  This little piece of pink flesh is the most forgotten
important organ in your body.

Your tongue, the thing you never think of unless you bite it accidentally,
is a complex organ.

Most of us think of the tongue as one undifferentiated glob. Nothing
could be further from the truth.

Did you know that your tongue is like a map, with regions, and that the
regions have different jobs.

The front tip of your tongue--the part you try to lick ice cream with--is
responsible for tasting sweet and salt.  It's more or less sticking out like
Florida on the map of your tongue.

The sides of your tongue are responsible for tasting sour.  They line the
tongue like the East Coast and the West Coast.

The back of your tongue--the part that is nearest your throat opening,
and the part that makes you gag-is responsible for tasting bitter.  This
would be analogous to the Canadian border.

The middle of your tongue--Kansas, Oklahoma, Minnesota,
Colorado--can't taste anything much at all.

Salt is something of a jack-of-all-trades taste. Even though the tip of the
tongue is best at tasting salt, actually salt can be detecting all over the
tongue, though more weakly than at the tip.

The fifth taste --called
umami--can be sensed all over the tongue and is
often overlooked and poorly understood. It's the earthy goodness taste
that usually makes you say "Hmmmmm", like when you eat slow-cooked
stews or slow-grilled
mushrooms. (Read more about the health benefits
of mushrooms.)

Besides the 4 or 5 tastes ( sweet, salt, sour,bitter and umami), we can
also taste "spoiled".  We can taste when food has gone bad, an
important protection for our bodies.  We can also sense hot, cold and

Not bad. But not as good as some insects which, for example, have taste
buds on their feet, antennae and in their mouths.  Not as good as fish
which can taste with their fins and tails as well as their mouths.  But
pretty good.  We humans are outfitted with pretty good taste bud gear.

We are born with 10,000 taste buds.   Or as many as cows which have
25,000 taste buds or rabbits which have 17,000 compared to our
10,000.  When we are babies, we have taste buds on our tongue and on
the sides and roof of our mouths.  We literally had a 360 degree taste

But as we get older, we start to lose our taste buds. The taste buds on
the sides of your mouth and the roof of your mouth disappeared.  

As we get even older, the remaining taste buds on our tongue get less
and less sensitive.  We can't taste out food.

Women versus Men- Who Has  Better Sense of Taste?

Everyone has a slightly different sense of taste.  Some of us are simply
able to taste more finely than others. In general, women have more
taste buds than men.

A 1991 study at the Yale School of Medicine found that some people,
so-called "supertasters" are born with more taste buds than the rest of
us. Supertasters have more than
twice the number of taste buds as the
rest of us.   For supertasters,  flavors  have enhanced intensity --salt is
saltier, spicy is spicier, sweet is sweeter.

At the other extreme are so-called "nontasters". Nontasters either have
dull senses of taste or cannot detect some flavors at all.

Interestingly, nontasters tend to prefer the tastes of sweets, alcohol,
and fatty foods. Sound familiar?

Most of us fall somewhere in between. We are neither supertasters nor
nontasters.  We have an average number of taste buds and average

The Yale study estimates that about 25% of the population are
supertasters, 25% are nontasters and 50% are tasters.

For American Caucasians, about 35% of women and only 15% of men
are supertasters. Thus, on average, women do have more taste buds
than men. Supertasters have at least twice as many taste buds as others.

Some ethnicities seem to have better sense of taste than others.  Asians
seem to have a higher proportion of supertasters.

Interestingly, the number of taste buds varies in different animals. For
example, cows have 25,000 taste buds and rabbits 17,000 while human
adults have only about 10,000. Mmm...are cows supertasters then?
Though they have longer tongues so the amount of taste buds per
square inch may be less than humans. But rabbits have comparatively
smaller tongues, and more taste buds, so are they the real supertasters?

In humans, the difference in the number of taste buds can vary widely.
You could have from 11 to 1,100 taste buds per square inch. On
average, supertasters have 425 taste buds per square centimeter on the
tips of their tongues, compared to 184 for tasters and 96 for nontasters.
Another interesting fact is that women tend to be either super­tasters or
nontasters, while men tend more often to be regular tasters. Thus, it is a
double-edged sword for women.

However, even though women are born with more taste buds, they start
losing them before men. According to the National Institutes of Health,
the number of taste buds decreases beginning at about age 40 to 50 in
women and at 50 to 60 in men. Each remaining taste bud also begins to
atrophy (lose mass). The sensitivity to the four taste sensations does
not seem to decrease until after age 60, if at all. If taste sensation is lost,
usually salty and sweet tastes are lost first, with bitter and sour tastes
lasting slightly longer.

Are there things we can do to improve our sense of taste?  Can we
re-capture the taste buds of youth?

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