The richness and variety of foods, flavors, and combinations of those flavors is perhaps one of our Creator’s greatest gifts to us. He didn’t just give us foods that contain the basic nutrients for life so that we could stay alive. He gave us thousands of different fruit, vegetable, grain, and meat options, spices and oils to flavor our foods, and scores of ways to prepare our food.
And it doesn’t end there. He also gave us the features we’d need to be able to taste and enjoy our food. Our tongues can taste five basic flavors; sweet, sour, salty, bitter, and savory. But new research suggests our tongues can taste a sixth taste—water. Yes, even tasteless water seems to stimulate certain taste-buds! Other research shows this number of flavors identifiable may continue to climb.
But how do we actually taste? Well our tongues, throats, and the roofs of our mouths feature thousands of taste buds. You may have learned in school that different regions of the tongue have taste receptors for different tastes but we now know that every taste bud has receptors for every flavor to varying degrees.
The cells of a taste bud are arranged sort of like an orange and each cell has little hairs that poke out the top. These hairs contain proteins which detect and grab chemicals from your food so the cell can “taste” them. This information is turned into a nerve signal which travels to the lower section of your brainstem. From there the information splits up and travels to several parts of your brain to tell you the flavor, temperature, and texture of your food.
During these signals’ trip around the brain they meet up with messengers from your sense of smell that give you even more information about what you’re eating. If you have a cold or stuffy nose you’ll notice your food doesn’t taste nearly as strong—you may even barely be able to taste at all. That’s because our sense of smell is strongly connected to our sense of taste.
Our sense of taste is an incredible marvel. So next time you sit down to enjoy a sweet bite of peach, a sour slice of grapefruit, a salty peanut, or a savory chicken thigh, think about the amazing process going on inside your mouth. Or as Psalm 34 in the Bible puts it: “Taste and see that the Lord is good.”
I’m David Rives…Truly the heavens declare the glory of God.
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Guide to the Human Body delves into the complex construction of the cell, a baby’s development in the womb, the mechanics of our hands, and the incredible abilities of our brain.