How Do Taste Buds Work?

November 2, 2011

Did you know you have taste buds on the roof of your mouth? You actually have over 10,000 of the little guys to help you sense salty, sweet, bitter, sour, and savory foods! Let’s learn more about taste buds and how they work.


Taste buds are located on the front, back, and sides of your tongue and even on the roof of your mouth. If you were to look into the mirror and stick out your tongue, you’d see a lot of little bumps called papillae. These bumps contain microvilli, otherwise known as taste buds. Microvilli are microscopic hairs that act like postal workers, carrying flavor messages to the brain.

Your brain interprets the tongue’s messages as salty, sweet, bitter, sour, or savory. We used to believe that there were only four flavors the microvilli could detect until a Japanese professor discovered the fifth: umami. In English, we say something is savory. Examples of savory foods include tomatoes, fish, and cheeses. 

The Nose

Microvilli don’t work alone. Remember the last time you were sick? Your mom may have brought you chicken noodle soup. If you had a stuffy nose, chances are you couldn’t taste the chicken and creamy broth. That’s because your nose plays an important role in helping your brain recognize taste. Your nose contains specials cell receptors that catch aromas before you ever take a bite! You’ll recognize how powerful the nose is if you ever walk by a cinnamon roll stand. Before you even see the buns, your nose sends a big “food’s comin’!” to your brain, causing your mouth to water.

Just remember to brush your teeth after the sticky bun; you don’t want to get cavities!

 Dr. Brad Greenfield is a dentist serving families in the Lake Orion area. Contact our dental office in Lake Orion, Michigan at 248-693-6213 or visit our website.

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