The tongue does not have different parts for tasting different flavours

“Place the medicine at the tip of your tongue. That way it won’t taste bitter”. I cannot speak for anyone else, but I have certainly heard this many times in my childhood while being coerced to take medicines. The apparent logic behind doing so was that the tip of the tongue has less receptors for bitter taste, so the medicine wouldn’t taste as bad if it was placed there. There were supposedly different ‘zones’ on the tongue, with each ‘zone’ being sensitive to one particular flavour.

Tongue Map

Above is a commonly cited map of the tongue, with the different ‘zones’ shown. It is unfortunate that, despite its clarity and lucidity, the map is completely wrong. It has been proven by scientific studies that all parts of the tongue are sensitive to all flavours. In fact, even the roof of the mouth has equal sensitivity to sweetness as the tip your tongue!

Research as far back as 1974 proved that the ‘tongue map’ was a misunderstanding. More recently, Columbia University studied the 8,000 or so taste buds scattered over a tongue. They determined that each of the 8,000 taste buds is capable of sensing each of the four flavours (or five, if you include umami). They also found that it is the brain and not the taste buds that controls what we taste. This means that there may be minute variations in the sensations we receive at different parts of the tongue, but this is down to the brain, not the tongue.

So the next time you have to take a bitter medicine, just do it (no, this is not subtle advertising). No amount of scheming is going to save you from the harsh reality. Besides, if you do it right, you won’t taste anything anyway.



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