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Have you ever had a sour candy that made your cheeks pucker tight? Or something so spicy that it made you cry a little? The science of flavor and taste are fascinating, but we mostly tend to not think about it.  As we’ve discussed our oral health is incredibly important, but now let’s take a second to understand why we taste at all. Daniel Gritzer of outlines exactly how our tastebuds work and how we can taste our favorite flavors.

The Science of Taste

There are so many flavors and flavor combinations, it can make any foodie smile ear to ear. Sweet, spicy, sour, bitter, umami, etc. and we can taste them all. This is due to the tastebuds we have located on our tongues. The little bumps on our tongues, scientifically known as papillae, contain thousands of tastebuds, each of which contain up to several hundred tasting cells.

These tasting cells are specifically designed to identify sweet, sour, bitter, spicy, and salty tastes. Our brains are hardwired to detect these tastes, to be more alert to whether that flavor is from a food that can harm us. While it was assumed that these tastes (sweet, sour, salty, etc.) only on certain parts of the tongue, that is not the case.

Our sense of smell can help us identify flavor. All of those identifications are learned, for example the smell of vanilla or bacon. We can’t naturally identify what bacon or vanilla smell like until after we’ve experienced them for the first time. Vanilla and bacon are flavors, meaning that they are a mixture of several scents and tastes at once.

Repairing Our Sense of Taste

As we have previously mentioned, our oral health is incredibly important. A good indication that we might have problems with our oral health is a lost of taste. There can be several reasons why we would have a lessened sense of taste, some more severe than others. For example, a simple head cold can weaken our sense of taste, by plugging our noses. We can determine that the ice cream is sweet, but we would have a hard time picking up on the vanilla flavor specifically.

We can repair our sense of taste by working to better our immune systems and oral health. See a doctor if your taste has disappeared or if the underlying condition persists.

For more healthy retirement tips and tricks, make sure to follow along with the Council for Retirement Security.