• Question: How do people taste things?

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      Asked by 974fscd45 to Emma on 19 Nov 2015.
      • Photo: Emma Feeney

        Emma Feeney answered on 19 Nov 2015:

        Well we all have taste receptors in our taste buds, and these our found within the little bumps on our tongues, the fungiform papillae. We also have tastebuds in the papilla at the back the circumvallate papillae, and in our foliate papillae as well.

        The tastebud itself looks like a bunch of bananas from the side – it has lots of receptor cells bunched together, and there is a hole, or a ‘pore’ at the top, which leads into the epithelium (the tissue in your mouth). When you put something in your mouth, the molecules get in there and touch the taste receptor cells and activate them.

        Depending on which one or ones were activated, your brain interprets it as a taste. But… it doesn’t end there! Our taste receptors are all a bit different, depending on our genetics, and some molecules will activate a receptor in some people, but not others.

        A really well-known example of this is the taste of PROP ( the long name is 6-n-propylthiouracil, but we prefer PROP, its easier!)

        PROP is really intensely bitter to some people, but (at low levels) relatively tasteless to the others! It’s a cool little science experiment that you could do in your class at school – to see who can taste it and who can’t!

        Research suggests this might be linked to the number of tastebuds, but the jury is still out on that one.