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inunsure's avatar

How good are our taste buds?

Asked by inunsure (423points) August 11th, 2012

Sometimes the placebo effect can make some people think some wine tastes better than others just because of it’s fancy bottle and other times people can pick up on a lemon not being used in a dish, so is there any good information out there to give me a good sense at how good a normal person’s taste buds are?

What is taste and how different it has to be before we can tell the difference?

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13 Answers

marinelife's avatar

We can really only sense five tastes: sweet, salty, bitter, sour and umami. The flavor of a particular food is made up these sensations along with smell.

inunsure's avatar

But I want to know how sensitive are our taste buds to all these tastes.

If something was 50% salty and 50% sweet could we tell the difference between something that was 55% salty and 45% sweet?

El_Cadejo's avatar

I would say for sure. Just think about cooking and how the slight pinch of one thing can completely make a recipe but a bit to much salt or something can completely destroy a good dish. Think about when you have really good food all the different flavors and tastes we experience in each bite. Yea I think our taste buds are pretty advanced.

I would be curious to see how they compare with other animals

Sunny2's avatar

Taste is one of the 5 senses and like the others, the degree of individual sensitivity is on a continuum from none to extreme. Some people have no or little sense of taste. Others can detect the slightest difference in flavor. The people who are taste samplers for industries are mostly highly sensitive.
The same is true for hearing, sight, touch, and smell. Actually, the sense sense of smell and taste are related. If you can’t taste, you may not be able to smell either.

Earthgirl's avatar

People vary in the number of taste buds that they have and that effects how well they can pick up on nuances of flavors in foods. Read more about Supertasters here and here and here

mattbrowne's avatar

The quality of the buds rather depends on training the brain responsible for taste.

Earthgirl's avatar

@mattbrowne I know there is such a thing as a “trained palate” and that people can learn to appreciate different tastes if they stay open to trying new things. I think the earlier children are exposed to some tastes the wider the range of flavors that they appreciate which seems to agree with your statement about training the brain. But do you have any information about how that works? Is there research that brain development affects our sense of taste as much as our actual physical taste buds? I’d be interested to read about the interplay of those 2 factors.

Earthgirl's avatar

I just found this quite interesting article about how taste can involve things other than just the taste buds and the brain. Wow, you learn something new every day. Scientists are using brain imaging to locate hotspots for tasting different flavors and trying to create a “gustatory map” of the brain. Some of the research could help to explain food aversions. It could also help to aid in treating food related illnesses such as diabetes.

mattbrowne's avatar

@Earthgirl – No, I’d have to do some research, but I think the basic principle is the same for all senses: conscious focus and reflection and lots of repetition. The untrained ear can’t recognize that many different instruments in an orchestra. Now, listen carefully. Recognize the main theme? That’s an oboe. Next time it’s a bit easier. The neural principle is called: hebbian learning = fire together wire together. Now close your eyes and taste this ice cream. Recognize the flavor? That’s an amarena cherry. This is how these “maps” are being created. And they can be refined further and further. A wine expert will not only tell you it’s a merlot, but also the region and perhaps even the vintage.

I’m not sure I understand how this is related to type 2 diabetes. That’s not a food-related illness, but a metabolic disorder that is characterized by high blood glucose in the context of insulin resistance and relative insulin deficiency. All energy from any food ends up as glucose to be used by the body.

Earthgirl's avatar

mattbrowne That’s interesting and more relevant to the question at hand. Thanks for explaining in more detail. :)
When it comes to wine the taste can be very subjective. I was at a large tasting party once where they made a sort of game out of having people try to guess what wines were the expensive wines and voting their favorites in a blind taste test. It was interesting when they showed the results. The point of the test was to show that wine snobbery is sort of pointless and to show how subjective the flavor perceptions were. Basically the wine expert who was hosting the event said to just drink what you enjoy!

Back to the article I posted the link to:
The article did not explain at length how the information could be used but some of the findings related to taste receptors which are not on the tongue. It’s way off topic really since the OP was asking about how accurate our taste buds are but I thought it was interesting. It doesn’t have to do with taste in the mouth. It has to do with flavor receptors other places in the body. They may have applications to treating anorexia and diabetes.

an excerpt from the article:
The other recent revelation in taste research is that the receptors that detect bitter, sweet and umami are not restricted to the tongue. They are distributed throughout the stomach, intestine and pancreas, where they aid the digestive process by influencing appetite and regulating insulin production. ......Taste buds are simply a way of sensing chemicals, so they can have functions unrelated to detecting the flavour of food. And they are surprisingly common in the body (see ‘The secret lives of taste receptors’), although their presence is sometimes baffling. “We don’t know the function of these receptors in more places than we do know them,” says Finger. (Thomas Finger, co-director of the University of Colorado’s Rocky Mountain Taste and Smell Center in Aurora.) It is not surprising that some of the better-understood examples are in the digestive system. The T1R2/T1R3 sweet receptor is found on K- and L-type enteroendocrine cells in the intestine. These cells secrete hormones called incretins, which in turn stimulate insulin production. The sweet receptors neatly explain a phenomenon that had mystified physiologists for more than 50 years: that eating glucose triggers significantly more insulin than injecting it directly into the bloodstream. Neuroscientist Robert Margolskee, now associate director of the Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, realized that if there were receptors in the intestine that could detect glucose and trigger the release of hormones, this would provide the missing link for the so-called incretin effect. In 2007, his hypothesis proved correct as his team found the sweet receptor on L cells in the human duodenum2 and showed that these cells produce the gastrointestinal incretin hormone GLP-1, which stimulates insulin production and sends a satiety signal to the brain. Blocking or deleting these sweet receptors decreases insulin release.

mattbrowne's avatar

Thanks, @Earthgirl – I was not aware of the taste receptors in the stomach, intestine and pancreas and the connection to decreases insulin release. Thanks for sharing this!

Earthgirl's avatar

@mattbrowne Just one more example of how amazingly complex the human body is!

mattbrowne's avatar

@Earthgirl – Absolutely !

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