Did you ever wonder why your favorite foods taste so good? Well, you can thank
your taste buds for letting you appreciate the saltiness of pretzels
and the sweetness of ice cream.
Taste buds are sensory organs that are found on your tongue
and allow you to experience tastes that are sweet, salty, sour, and bitter. How exactly
do your taste buds work? Well, stick out your tongue and look in the mirror.
See all those bumps? Those are called papillae
(say: puh-PILL-ee), and most of them contain taste buds. Taste buds have very sensitive
microscopic hairs called microvilli (say: mye-kro-VILL-eye). Those tiny hairs send
messages to the brain about how something tastes, so you know if it's sweet, sour,
bitter, or salty.
The average person has about 10,000 taste buds and they're replaced every 2 weeks
or so. But as a person ages, some of those taste cells don't get replaced. An older
person may only have 5,000 working taste buds. That's why certain foods may taste
stronger to you than they do to adults. Smoking also can reduce the number of taste
buds a person has.
But before you give taste buds all the credit for your favorite flavors, it's important
to thank your nose. Olfactory (say: ahl-FAK-tuh-ree)
receptors inside the uppermost part of the nose
contain special cells that help you smell. They send messages to the brain.
Here's how it works: While you're chewing, the food releases chemicals that immediately
travel up into your nose. These chemicals trigger the olfactory receptors inside the
nose. They work together with your taste buds to create the true flavor of that yummy
slice of pizza by telling the brain all about it!
When you have a cold or allergies, and your nose is
stuffy, you might notice that your food doesn't seem to have much flavor. That's because
the upper part of your nose isn't clear to receive the chemicals that trigger the
olfactory receptors (that inform the brain and create the sensation of flavor).
Try holding your nose the next time you eat something. You'll notice that your
taste buds are able to tell your brain something about what you're eating —
that it's sweet, for instance — but you won't be able to pick the exact flavor
until you let go of your nose.
So the next time you chomp on an apple or slurp up some soup, thank your tongue
— and your nose! Without them, life wouldn't have any flavor.