Tasting and the Tongue

Those maps we learned at school are all wrong…

The old school ‘tongue map’ told us that sweet is tasted on the tip of the tongue; salty is on either side of the front of the tongue; sour taste buds are behind the ones that taste salt; and bitter taste buds are way on the back of the tongue.

Now we know that’s just completely incorrect. While the different sections of the tongue might be (very slightly) more sensitive to the different tastes, it’s our taste buds that are responsible and those aren’t divided into neat, map-able areas. Our taste buds are full of extremely sensitive microscopic hairs (microvilli) which send messages to the brain about how something tastes. The average healthy human has 10 000 taste buds and they regenerate every two weeks, but the older you get (and the more you smoke) the less they’ll regenerate, so older people may only have 5 000 taste buds.

Back to the messages our microvilli send to our brains. Traditionally humans are able to identify more than the five basic tastes; that is, sweet, sour, bitter, salty and umami. Ayurveda also adds astringent (for example, leafy greens) and pungent (for example, chili) to the range of flavours we can identify. Let’s be honest, it’s sometimes difficult to find the right word to describe the flavour explosion of an aged, complex single malt, so we say the more flavour categories, the better!

On that note, we had a laugh at Mike’s Whizzky tasting note for Town Branch Bourbon. He gave it a 0.5 out of 5 and described it as “Foul. Neat, with water, couldn’t even use it to make a decent old fashioned. Like lawn clippings from a mower with a fuel leak…” Then, proving that in the words of the Roman poet Lucretius, one man’s meat is another man’s poison, Phillip rated the very same Bourbon a 3.5 out of 5 and tasted corn, malted barley, honey, apricots and pear, which doesn’t sound half bad!

Jokes aside, another tasting note added to Whizzky by Joon for Johnnie Walker Black Label emphasises the importance of second chances: “First try: tastes like ash. Sucks. Second try: caramel, dried fruit.” So, if at first you don’t succeed, pour and pour again!


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