Bumpiness of tongue not linked to having more taste buds: Study

ANI| Updated: May 29, 2014, 15:52 PM IST

London: Supertasters are the minority the population who have a heightened sense of taste - particularly for bitter compounds - and for many years scientists have linked the trait with the number of "fungiform papillae" or sensory bumps on the tongue.

However, with the help of 3,000 "citizen scientists", researchers have now proved that there is in fact no link between the number papillae on someone's tongue and whether or not they can taste certain kinds of bitter compounds, the Independent reported.

Nicole Garneau of the Denver Museum of Nature and Science in Colorado said that there is a long-held belief that if you stick out your tongue and look at the bumps on it, then you can predict how sensitive you are to strong tastes like bitterness in vegetables and strong sensations like spiciness.

Dr Garneau said that the commonly accepted theory has been that the more bumps you have, the more taste buds you have and therefore the more sensitive you are, but no matter how they looked at the data, they couldn't replicate this long held assumption that a high number of papillae equals supertasting.

Supertasters are defined by whether they can detect the presence of two bitter-tasting compounds, phenylthiocarbamide (PTC) and propylthiouracil (PROP), and geneticists have shown that this ability depends to a large extent on certain variations of a gene known as TAS2R38.

However, scientists believed that the density of taste buds on the tongue also played a part - a belief that goes back more than 20 years - and that taste bud density and supertasting could also explain food pickiness in some children who were more sensitive to bitter-tasting substances in spicy foods and in vegetables such as Brussels sprouts.

The results of the study showed that the density of sensory papillae on a person's tongue could not "in any way" be used to predict whether or not they could taste PROP.

The researchers found that this was true irrespective of gender, age or a person's genetic makeup with respect to the gene TASR38.

The findings are published in the journal Frontiers of Integrative Neuroscience.