Fifteen facts about gustation — the sense of taste

Joseph R. Anticaglia MD
Medical Advisory Board

“More than 200,000 people visit a doctor each year for problems with their ability to taste,” according to the National Institute of Health (NIH). Below is information about Gustation, the sense of taste.

Ten Facts

  1. The tongue has about ten thousand taste buds. They are not just on your tongue. They are also found behind the tongue and in other parts of the mouth.
  2. The primary tastes of sweet, bitter, sour, salty and umami can be detected by all the taste buds. However, certain parts of the tongue are more sensitive to the primary tastes compared to other parts.
  3. The life span of a taste bud is about ten to twelve days. They ordinarily grow back.
  4. After the age of 60, we have fewer taste buds because they do not grow back. (Some question this statement).
  5. Umami has been described as a pleasant, savory taste (e.g., the taste of a ripe tomato).
  6. Taste is not the same as flavor. Taste and smell mingle to produce flavor. Flavor equals taste plus smell.
  7. People are surprised to find out that their taste problem is actually a problem with the sense of smell.
  8. At least eighty per cent of the time, what we refer to as taste is flavor and it’s related to our sense of smell.
  9. Taste protects us against bad food and drink (e.g. sour milk).
  10. Saliva is necessary to break down food into chemical components (molecules). The chemicals stimulate the nerves in the taste buds and they relay the information to the brain for interpretation.

Plus Five

  1. Supertasters, individuals with a heightened sense of taste, have more taste buds than the average person.
  2. Inherited genetic traits influence your taste preferences.
  3. Chemotherapy, Radiation Therapy and very hot liquids can destroy taste buds. Sometimes they are replaced with new taste buds. (Sometimes they aren’t).
  4. Post-operative patients (post-anesthesia patients) have experienced alterations in taste and smell.
  5. Nasal obstruction (nasal polyps, common cold, allergies) interfere with the ability to smell and taste.

Many factors interfere with gustation. (A) Medications, tobacco smoking and surgery are a few more considerations in this regard. Taste offers us pleasure and a degree of safety which enhances the quality of our life.


Stuckey, Barb; Taste What You’re Missing; 2012; .Simon and Schuster
Reed, Danielle r, Diverse Tastes, Genetics of Sweet and Bitter Perception; Physiol. Behav. Jun 30, 2004
Guyton and Hall, Textbook of Medical Physiology,. W. B. Saunders and Co.
Bromley, Steven M.; Smell and Taste Disorders; Am. Fam. Physician; Jan 15, 2000
NIH, Taste Disorders, January 5, 2014
Elterman, Kelly et al; Post-operative Alterations in Taste and Smell; Anesth. Pain Med. 2014

(A) Glossary

Gustation — sense of taste
Ageusia — loss of the sense of taste
Hypogeusia — reduced ability to taste
Hypergeusia — heightened sense of taste
Parageusia — distortion of the sense of taste

This article is intended solely as a learning experience. Please consult your physician for diagnostic and treatment options.