Tongue Taste Map Debunked

Got Saliva

A recent issue of Smithsonian magazine has an interesting article about how humans taste food and where the classic tongue taste map came from. A taste map, with designated parts of our tongue sensing different flavors, has often been a part of various textbooks we may have seen in school. Yet the reality is that all over the tongue you can taste all of the various flavors! What’s more, this finding is not new. So why is the taste map of the tongue so commonly accepted?

First, we have German scientist David P Hänig to thank for that. Hänig wanted to measure how we perceive taste around the edge of the tongue. He called this the “taste belt” and studied it by dripping different stimuli of salty, sweet, sour and bitter tastes around the edges of the tongue. He devised a corresponding graph to show his findings, specifically that some areas were more sensitive to specific flavors than others. Yet Hänig never claimed that these areas were exclusive to certain flavors, just that they had a slightly higher sensitivity to those flavors.

It was another scientist, Edwin G. Boring (what a name for a scientist!), who used Hänig’s data to present the tongue map in his book Sensation and Perception in the History of Experimental Psychology. It actually did not take very long for researchers to dispute this map and its concept that the tastes were limited to specific sectors of the tongue. Many different studies involving the nerves that carry taste sensation have proven this idea to be inaccurate. Nevertheless, the concept of the tongue map persists. The takeaway is this: while parts of the tongue may be minutely more sensitive to certain tastes than others, your entire tongue can taste all of the five main flavors (don’t forget the sense of savory, called umami).

The dentists at the Sacramento Dentistry Group know there is more to a healthy mouth than just brushing and flossing the teeth. Your tongue’s health is also vital! See our other articles on the tongue and make sure to keep your appointments with the Sacramento Dentistry Group for a healthy tongue and teeth.

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