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What Are Taste Receptors?

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  • Written By: Dulce Corazon
  • Edited By: W. Everett
  • Last Modified Date: 10 November 2014
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There are generally thousands of taste buds scattered in the tongue. Each taste bud has about 50 to 150 taste receptors that usually perform a selective taste function. Taste receptors are cells responsible for allowing individuals to evaluate the saltiness, sweetness, and bitterness of the food and beverages they are eating and drinking. Other taste sensations that can also be detected by the taste receptors include sourness and umami.

Umami is a taste sensation the brain recognizes when individuals consume food containing glutamate, which is usually in the form of monosodium glutamate (MSG). MSG is an ingredient frequently added to many processed foods, like cheese and meat, to enhance their flavor. An example of a bitter tasting food is lettuce. Sweet foods include milk and sugar. Lemon and mango are sour, while salt and seaweed are salty.

The interpretation of taste is often made possible due to the interactions between the food molecules and the taste receptors in the tongue. For example, when a person takes a gulp from a glass of milk, the taste buds for the sense of sweet taste often undergo several chemical reactions. These reactions then result in the release of nerve signals to the brain, which in turn, interprets or acknowledges the sweet taste of milk. This is also what occurs whenever other foods with different tastes are placed in the mouth.

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Not everyone has the same number of taste receptors, however, and taste sensitivity may also differ among individuals. Some people have more sensitive taste receptors than others. The number of taste receptors is often inherited by children from their parents. Taste sensitivity is also often influenced by a person's sense of smell.

Many elderly individuals experience changes in their sense of taste. This is mostly due to the decreasing number of taste receptor cells in the tongue as one gets older. The taste buds may also be reduced in number in most individuals who smoke.

Several factors can affect the functions of the taste receptors, thus leading to the development of taste disorders. These include infections in the ears and the upper respiratory tract, and injury to the nerves caused by head trauma, or surgical procedures. Some medications may also have side effects that alter the taste sensation of patients. Ingestion of harmful chemicals like insecticides may also cause some serious damage to the taste buds. Tooth problems, as well as poor oral hygiene, can also contribute to the development of taste disorders.

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shell4life
Post 4

Some antibiotics can really mess with your taste bud receptors. Most drugs like this take the pleasure out of eating while you're on them.

I have taken antibiotics to get over various sinus infections, urinary tract infections, and strep throat. Eight times out of ten, the antibiotics would make everything I put in my mouth taste bitter.

Even water tasted awful. I could not enjoy eating at all for about ten days.

I was supposed to be drinking plenty of fluids to help flush the bacteria out of my system, but it was hard to do this, since water itself seemed tainted. I lost a couple of pounds while on the drug.

OeKc05
Post 3

My sense of taste leaves my tongue when I have a bad cold. My sinuses and throat are infected, and I can no longer taste my favorite foods.

I generally use this time to eat healthy. If I can't taste things, then what is the use in eating fat and sugar? I shovel in the veggies and fruits that I normally don't care for until my tastebuds return to normal.

It's awful when I'm all stuffed up and someone brings something delicious to work. Once, a lady brought chocolate mousse pie and raspberry linzer cookies while I was sick. I could not even enjoy my favorite desserts during this time.

Oceana
Post 2

@orangey03 – That is so odd that you never grew out of your cheese hatred! I hated the taste of a lot of things when I was a kid, but as my taste buds changed, so did my diet.

I used to detest the taste of most vegetables and dark chocolate. Anything even slightly bitter made me gag. I also loved sugary foods.

Now, vegetables like spinach and broccoli are big parts of my diet. I prefer dark chocolate over milk chocolate, because anything with much of a sugary taste nauseates me. I even drink coffee now, which I thought I would hate forever.

orangey03
Post 1

The taste receptors on my tongue must be responsible for my life-long hatred of cheese. I tried it when I was young, and I have hated it ever since.

This has made eating at social events difficult. All my friends had pizza topped with cheese at their birthday parties, and I would have to eat only cake and potato chips. I can't eat most of the casseroles at church dinners, and the appetizers at parties mostly contain cheese.

I even tried to like cheese as a child, just to fit in. For about a week, I struggled to eat cheese slices on my bologna sandwiches, but I just hated the texture and the flavor. After that week, I just surrendered to the opinion of my taste receptors.

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