The bumpiness of your tongue is not related to taste

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Scientists have stated that the bumps on your taste buds are not related to the tastes you experience.

Supertasters are in the minority and they have an increased sense of taste, particularly bitter ones. For many years scientists have linked supertasters to the bumps on the tongue.

With the assistance of 3000 citizens, researchers have finally proved that there is no link between the papillae number on a person’s tongue and whether or not they are able to taste certain types of bitter compounds.

Nicole Garneau of the Denver Museum of Nature and Science in Colorado said that people have believed that the number of bumps on your tongue offers you more sensitivity to strong tastes. She stated that regardless of how their data was reviewed, this assumption was false.

Supertasters are recognised by whether they are able to confirm the presence of two compounds that are bitter tasting, propylthiouracil (PROP) and phenylthiocarbamide (PTC). Geneticists have determined that this ability is dependent on certain variations of the TAS2R38 gene.

Dr Garneau and her team tested the long-held belief of scientists with assistance from 3000 visitors to the Genetics of Taste Lab at Denver museum. They counted the number of sensory papillae on each person’s tongue and the volunteers were assessed for sensitivity to PROP. Around 400 volunteers also underwent a genetic makeup analysis to determine which type of TAS2R38 gene they had.

The results indicated that the sensory papillae density on an individual’s tongue had no link to whether they could taste PROP or not. The researchers discovered that this applied regardless of age, gender or the genetic makeup regarding TASR38 of the person.

The study confirmed that TAS2R38 played a significant role in determining the tasting ability of an individual, however it could not explain the variances between individuals.

Dr Garneau stated that their findings placed doubt on the scientific definition related to supertasting and that the term should be replaced by one that specifies a range of tasting abilities, rather than whether an individual falls into one group or another.

She stated that the understanding of how the human body works is improved when dogmas are challenged. As testing methods improve, science will advance.

She said that they have been unable to replicate the well-known ideas about supertasting.

People’s senses of taste vary greatly and can be explained by their experience, cultural upbringing and genetics. Supertasters have been classified as those who feel revulsion at the taste of bitter compounds. It is considered that around 25% of people fall into this category. It also appears that children have more sensitivity to bitterness than adults do.

Scientists stated during the 1960s that there was a genetic component to supertasting, but it was only during the 1990s that they suggested that the anatomy of the tongue played a role in this.

This is what led to the belief that the number of bumps on the tongue is an indication of your ability to differentiate tastes. The latest research seems to have disproved this theory and has called into dispute the idea of supertasters.

Image Credit: Mike Burns

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