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How Does The Tongue Work?

By Edited Jan 4, 2014 1 3

Tongue and Taste

The Tongue, that pink thing in your mouth, can be used for many different tasks. When you learn the answer to the question, “How does the tongue work?” you cannot help but be amazed.

Tongue Used For Tasting

The most obvious use of the tongue is that of taste, as when you put something in your mouth, your tongue will interpret all of the different tastes and send them to the brain. Imagine you are eating a bowl of Chili. There are many different ingredients that you could put into chili, and they all affect the taste of the whole thing. The average person probably won't be able to detect all of the different flavors all at once, but they will all combine to form another flavor, a unique one. See, your tongue is covered in many tiny taste buds. These taste buds are adept at detecting the five flavors, sweet, bitter, salt, sour, and umami. 

Taste is determined by the tongue through the use of taste buds located on the tongue.  On the tongue, there are four types of bumps, called papillae, and on top of these are located the taste buds.  The taste buds determine how much of each of the five primary tastes they sense in the food and transmit their findings to the brain.  It is a common misconception that there are specific areas of the tongue for each taste, but the fact is that there are taste buds for each taste type in each part of the tongue.

Tongue and Speech
Five Primary Tastes of the Tongue

Sweet, the flavor commonly associated with candy, dessert, and sugar. So much, in fact, they are have been nicknamed 'Sweets'. You never give anyone any 'Salts', or 'Bitters' to eat. People will often look forward to having a nice sweet thing to eat, and sweets can be used as reward to deserving children. Sweet usually cause by sugars, or some other form of sweetener.

Taste on Tongue
Bitterness, a taste that people definitely do not look forward to eating, is described as being unpleasant, or sharp. That's not to say that people don't eat/drink foods/beverages with the taste in them. Coffee, beer, olives, and other less common foods tend to have the taste. In case you were wondering why the taste exists in the first place, then let me tell you that toxic things tend to have a bitter taste as well. The sense of bitter taste is an adequate defense against poisonous plants and chemicals. Denatonium is the bitterest chemical known to man, and is sometimes placed onto cable wires so that rats will stop gnawing on them. Take that, rats.

 

Taste Areas on Tongue
Sour, the flavor that causes cartoon characters' face to get sucked into their mouth, is commonly associated with lemons and sour candy. It pops up the most in fruit, and will mysteriously show up in milk that has gone past its expiration date, not that anyone would want to drink any at that point.  Many people, myself included, choose to torture themselves by ingesting candies made with the sole purpose of pouring sour flavor on the consumer. Sour is caused by the presence of Hydrochloric acid. Don't get freaked out though, it is not like in movies where acid can burn through a wall in the blink of an eye, real acid will take probably take a one or two weeks to get through something like that, if not longer. However, if your tongue is sore after eating a lot of sour candy, now you know why.

Salt, the little white specks of flavor, is caused by the presence of sodium. There are other Alkali metals, though, that have the same salty flavor, however simply not as much. Salt is found quite abundantly in the ocean. The salt in the ocean is often filtered and used in cooking. As a matter of fact, salt is used in many foods that aren't considered healthy for you. Pizza, pretzels, potato chips, and french fries are all things that contain significant amounts of sodium. Eating too much salt could be hazardous to your health. Watching the amount of salt you eat could be an alternative to a trip to the hospital.

Last but not least, we have Umami. I bet you were wondering if I had typed that as a typo. It is real, although it wasn't acknowledged as a basic taste in the West until recently. That's not to say it hasn't existed, the East have been using it in cooking for a while. It is described as savory or meaty, and is found in cheese and soy sauce, as well as tomatoes, grains, and beans.

All of these tastes fill your tongue with the sensation that not only gives you pleasure as you feed, but can also tell you things about what you are feeding on. You just need to open your mouth.

Tongue Taste Problems

There are some common tongue taste problems.  A metallic taste under the tongue, a bitter taste in the mouth, or a complete loss of taste is some of the common complaints.

Medication or a lack of certain minerals or vitamins can alter the body chemistry, causing an altered sense of taste.  Also, if something is causing a dry mouth, the sense of taste can be changed, as moisture is needed for taste.

Smell is tied closely to taste, so if something is altering a person’s sense of smell, this will change their sense of taste.  If you have a cold, or allergies, your tastes may change. 

Oral hygiene, or lack of, can cause problems.  A change to the sense of taste can be a sign of gum disease, fungal infection, or other oral problem.

Tongue Used To Move Food

Without realizing it, the tongue sorts the food by size, pushing the larger pieces back to the teeth, and channeling the smaller pieces down the center of the tongue to be swallowed. 

Tongue and Fun
Tongue Used For Talking

Although not usually considered when thinking of the vocal tract, the tongue is an essential part that helps a person to form words for speech.  The tongue moves and lines up with the jaw, cheeks and lips to form channels for the air to make complex sounds.

The tongue is involved in three processes that greatly influence a person’s quality of life.  Losing the sense of taste, the ability to talk or to eat would be a serious detriment to anybody.   The answer to the question, “How does the tongue work?” is one of the miracles of life.

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Comments

Mar 30, 2012 6:37pm
Ascentive
Yes it is so true; the tongue is miracle especially when you speak several languages. Sometimes you almost break your tongue doing it.

~Anja~
Apr 1, 2012 4:08am
Rudra
The tongue is one of the most important organs. We need to be easy on it. Thanks for this brilliant article.
Sep 13, 2012 9:15pm
Finallyfast
Great article!

Thumbs Up!
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