Our tongues have one or two receptors for sweet, but at least 24 for bitter. Why is this? Plants contain many toxins that would poison us if we ingested them, and we needed to develop many receptors to detect these toxins.
The “tongue maps” that you may have seen in your elementary school science book are wrong; you taste everything all over your tongue.
Today, there are still five “tastes”: sweet, sour, bitter, salty, and umami. However, researchers have recommended the addition of at least half a dozen new tastes, including calcium and fat.
Some flavors, such as vanilla, actually have no taste at all. If you pinch your nose shut, you won’t even detect the vanilla on your tongue. Our nasal cavities contain about 400 types of receptors that control how we perceive flavor. The flavor of something is different from taste; we can taste sugar, but we can’t taste vanilla.
Volatiles enhance the sweet message of our foods. Strawberries, for example, contain 30 volatiles and aren’t nearly as sweet as we think that they are.
Your first bite of delicious food will always be the best. At the time of the first bite, dopamine is released in the brain’s reward system. The remaining bits won’t compare to the first, because leptin reduces the activation of dopamine neurons in the midbrain, decreasing the reward value of sugar with every bite that we take.
Although both sugar and artificial sweeteners activate the primary taste pathway in the brain, artificial sweeteners do not elicit a significant response from several brain regions of the taste-reward system like sugar does and do not lead to the same sense of satisfaction.
Most of us have somewhere between 2,000 and 10,000 taste buds on our tongues. However, some people have more than 10,000 and are “supertasters.” To these individuals, vegetables taste unappealing and bitter, and some desserts taste overwhelmingly sweet.
There is something known as the “miracle fruit,” Which makes limes and other bitter foods taste deliciously sweet. Tablets of the substance behind the miracle, miraculin, can be purchased online. An Indian herb, Gymnema Sylvestre, on the other hand, blocks your sweet receptors for about 30 minutes.
When we eat mainly processed foods, our taste buds mostly forget how real, unprocessed food tastes. This makes people believe that whole foods don’t taste as good. By consciously cutting down on high sodium foods and added sugars, we can slowly retrain our taste buds to appreciate the taste of whole foods again.