“Earlier theory of taste perception was based on taste map, wherein distinct areas of the tongue were shown to respond to certain stimuli. However, according to the latest theory, all taste buds respond to all stimuli.” – Gala and Chauhan, American Pharmaceutical Review. 2014: 24
People’s beliefs about taste throughout history have been all over the map. This is particularly true when it comes to taste mapping. The idea that certain regions of the tongue can only taste certain flavors is a myth.
Three studies conducted during the first half of the twentieth century changed people’s perception of taste. During early taste studies, most scientists agreed there are four flavors – sweet, salty, sour and bitter. In the early 1900s, however, a Japanese scientist named Kikunae Ikeda discovered a fifth flavor, umami, according to LiveScience. Umami is the taste of glutamate. Western scientists did not recognize it for decades, so it was left out of earlier taste studies.
In 1901, a German scientist named D. P. Hanig first created taste mapping. According to Yale Scientific, he asked volunteers to report perceived locations of taste and created the first tongue map. It showed that sweet flavors were most easily tasted on the tip of the tongue, salty flavors on the sides toward the front, sour flavors on the sides toward the back and bitter flavors in the very back of the tongue.
In 1942, experimental psychologist Edward Boring interpreted Hanig’s data. Boring assigned real numbers to the extent of sensitivity to tastes. This confused the viewers of his graphs, according to ABC Science. They misinterpreted the work to mean that those flavors could only be tasted on those parts of the tongue, which led to the incorrect modern taste mapping.
Those three studies shaped perception of human taste. In 1974, a fourth study would change that perception once again. According to the NYU Langone Medical Center, scientist Virginia Collins revisited the idea of taste mapping. She discovered that though regions of the tongue differ in taste sensitivity, these differences are small, and all regions of the tongue can detect all flavors. In fact, other parts of the mouth can also detect flavors.
Taste mapping, the idea that humans can only taste certain flavors on specific regions of the tongue, is a fallacy. Scientists have since proved that all parts of the tongue can taste all flavors, if not at equal strengths. At Orbis Biosciences®, we created the optimµmTM platform, so all regions of the mouth and tongue can avoid the taste of bitter medications. The combination of optimµmTM and future taste studies should be able to wipe the myth of taste mapping off the map.