You were most likely taught that the tongue is mapped into four areas—sweet, sour, salty and bitter and that, the taste buds for “sweet” are on the tip of the tongue; the “salt” taste buds are on either side of the front of the tongue; “sour” taste buds are behind this; and “bitter” taste buds are way in the back. 

Well, hold on to your taste buds because we’re about to bust that myth wide open!

The tongue map is easy enough to prove wrong at home.  Place salt on the tip of your tongue.  You’ll taste salt. 

Your taste buds are more like taste detectives, scattered all over your tongue, and guess what? They don’t stop there; they’re also distributed on your soft palate, epiglottis, and even your esophagus! They’re everywhere, ready to taste it all.

In fact, there’s more to taste than sweet, sour, salty and bitter.  Most scientists agree that there’s a fifth distinct taste, called umami, identified by a Japanese scientist named Kikunae Ikeda in the early 1900s (and ignored by the West for most of the twentieth century).  This is the taste of glutamate.  It is common in Japanese foods. So, there may really be five basic tastes and not four, and the entire tongue can sense all of these tastes more or less equally.

Here’s the thing: taste buds are small cells that can sense different flavors. When you eat, these cells send messages to your brain, giving you the lowdown on what you’re experiencing. While some areas might be a bit more sensitive, there’s no exclusive club for sweet, sour, salty, or bitter. It’s a flavor festival all over your tongue!