• AChemS Education Corner

The Taste Map: Really?

Contributor: Yanina Pepino, Jessica Nicanor, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Illinois, United States

Target audience: Ages 6 and older.

Goal(s): To learn that we detect all tastes in all parts of the tongue.

  • Table sugar
  • Salt
  • Lemon juice (1 1/2 lemon)
  • Chicken or meat bouillon cube
  • Instant coffee or unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 5 cotton swabs
  • 6 cups half-filled with water (~4 oz)
  • Add 2 ½ tablespoons of sugar to half a cup of water
  • Add 1 teaspoon of salt to half a cup of water
  • Add 3 tablespoons of lemon juice to half a cup of water
  • Add ¼ chicken or meat bouillon cube to half a cup of water and heat for 30 seconds in the microwave
  • Add 1 ½ tablespoons of instant coffee or 1 tablespoon of unsweetened cocoa powder to half a cup of water
  • Try each solution with a cotton swab in the tip of the tongue
  • Ask participants what the taste is
  • Rinse with water between solutions
Take-home message: The taste map is wrong. We detect all tastes in all parts of the tongue. We also learned to distinguish bitter from sour and salty from umami, tastes that people frequently confuse.

If you want to read up more on this topic try these scientific papers:
Chandrashekar, J., Hoon, M., Ryba, N. et al. The receptors and cells for mammalian taste. Nature 444, 288–294 (2006). https://doi.org/10.1038/nature05401

Roper SD, Chaudhari N. Taste buds: cells, signals and synapses. Nat Rev Neurosci. 2017 Aug;18(8):485-497. doi: 10.1038/nrn.2017.68. Epub 2017 Jun 29.