Taste buds are tiny nerve endings that react chemically with different foods. Taste buds transmit messages directly to the brain to perceive different tastes, including:
- Salty, such as French fries, peanuts and salted pork.
- Sweet, such as cotton candy, strawberries and sugar.
- Sour, such as lemons and limes.
- Bitter, such as black licorice, radishes and some medicines.
- Umami, a deep, savory taste found in miso, mushrooms and cooked meats.
Everything you eat is tested with your taste buds to tell you if the food is good or bad. You can actually see thousands of taste buds on your tongue.
Another major component to taste is smell. That’s why, when you have a cold or a stuffy nose, food doesn’t taste the same.
Try this at home:
- Pour a small glass of a flavored drink, such as juice.
- Take a drink while breathing normally.
- Then, pinch your nose with one hand and drink more juice. After drinking, you can unplug your nose.
- Do you notice any differences? The drink probably tastes blander when you plug your nose. That’s why it helps to pinch your nose when taking bad-tasting medicine.
As you get older, your sense of taste becomes weaker. Taste buds also can be dulled or even damaged by:
- Extreme heat or cold
- Dry mouth
- Spicy foods
- Extremely sour foods
- Some medications
Avoid those things to protect your taste buds.
Fortunately, damaged taste buds can heal, so your sense of taste is not totally lost. If your taste buds stay swollen, contact your doctor.
Last Reviewed: August 2019