Flavors & Your Tongue

Remember seeing something called a tongue map when you were younger? It was a diagram of the tongue broken up into different areas that could taste different flavors. The tip of your tongue was responsible for sweet, the back was for bitter, and sour and salty came from the sides. It seemed to make sense back then.

However, there’s not really much truth to this mouth “map” that seems scientific in nature thanks to the diagram. We can, however, teach you a little more about the different areas of the tongue and how many taste buds are on each.

Taste buds and the tongue

First off, if you stick your tongue out, you’ll see or feel tiny bumps on all areas of the tongue. Most people believe this to be taste buds. However, taste buds are much smaller and are housed within these bumps, or papillae.

The thing is, not all papillae house taste buds. Some areas of the tongue contain far more taste buds than others.

Location, location, location

Papillae come in four types — rather than tell you the scientific names of each, it may be easier explaining their location and how many taste buds frequent each.

The middle of your tongue has a specific type of papillae that almost looks like fur. This is just the shape of this papillae, not that it’s actually furlike or contains hairs. These papillae aren’t too exciting because they don’t contain any taste buds, which is why you don’t taste anything in the middle of your tongue. Go ahead and place a small candy in the smack dab middle next time you think about it and see if you can actually taste there. You won’t be able to.

The sides and front of the tongue have tiny dot-like papillae. These are a bit more interesting in that each contains around 3–5 taste buds, so you can technically taste things in this area of the tongue (but only slightly!).

So, finally, we get to the part of the tongue that contains the vast majority of taste buds: the back. Each type of papillae on the back of the tongue actually contains more than 100 taste buds, typically. It’s hard to imagine, but the biggest part of your sensation of taste happens back here. More often than not, you’re truly tasting your food once you swallow it.

Overall, the tongue map had good intentions in vaguely explaining areas of the tongue that could taste, just not specific tastes like it seemed to imply.

No matter the case, the next time you’re enjoying a nice steak or a sweet candy, really think about how it tastes and when you actually “taste it.” It’ll likely be when it’s at the back of your tongue!