Last time, we learned the truth behind some common lingual misconceptions. Today, we’ll learn some delicious facts about taste.
Gustation is the ability to detect flavors. Most of our experience of flavors actually comes from smells; this is why nothing tastes quite right when you’ve got a cold or runny nose. A complete loss or lack of gustation, called ageusia, is very rare – reduction or distortion of flavors is much more common. Some cases of dysgeusia, or taste distortion, are transient. You’ve probably experienced this if you’ve had orange juice right after brushing your teeth.
Several misconceptions surround gustation. Did you ever do a tasty science experiment that resulted in a “taste map?” This concept came from a misinterpretation of test results reported in 1901. Minute differences in sensitivity across the lingual surface were misconstrued as separate areas for each basic flavor. In fact, the entire tongue contains receptors for each of the five basic flavors: salty, sour, sweet, bitter, and umami. The last is a Japanese loanword describing the savory sensation of monosodium glutamate (MSG).
Your gustatory receptors aren’t just on your tongue – there are also some on your soft palate, upper esophagus, and epiglottis. Taste buds sit atop raised bumps called papillae, which cover the surface of the tongue. Some people have more papillae, and can savor more flavors. Supertasters are people with extraordinary gustatory abilities – they can actually taste some things most people can’t! Comprising about a quarter of the population, supertasters are incredibly sensitive to bitter and fatty foods. They generally avoid coffee, most alcohol, tobacco products, and fried foods. Consequently, most supertasters have better-than-average cardiovascular health. However, due to their disdain for vegetables like broccoli, spinach, and Brussels sprouts, they are at higher risk for colon cancer.
Next time, you’ll learn how to test your tasting ability, and a few flavor combinations you might learn to love. To learn more about gustation, or to schedule an appointment with Dr. Fondriest, call Lake Forest Dental Arts today at (847) 234-0517.