Columbia University researchers recently showed how taste buds aren't grouped like we always thought they were in a new study published in the journal Nature.
"The mammalian taste system is responsible for sensing and responding to the five basic taste qualities: sweet, sour, bitter, salty and umam [savory]," wrote study authors. "Previously, we showed that each taste is detected by dedicated taste receptor cells (TRCs) on the tongue and palate epithelium."
In other words, of the 8,000 taste buds peppering your tongue, the buds at the tip of your tongue are not specialized to taste sweet. Specialized cells inside the taste buds are tuned to sweet channels. When the cells perceive a signal, they communicate with the brain.
"The cells were beautifully tuned to discrete individual taste qualities, so you have a very nice match between the nature of the cells in your tongue and the quality they represent [in the brain]," study author and Columbia University professor Charles Zuker told BBC News.
"Our results reveal fine selectivity in the taste preference of ganglion neurons; demonstrate a strong match between TRCs [taste receptor cells] in the tongue and the principal neural afferents relaying taste information to the brain; and expose the highly specific transfer of taste information between taste cells and the central nervous system," wrote study authors.
How the brain interprets the messages isn't clear, according to BBC News.
This study brings hope to researchers who would like to reverse taste loss in the elderly, according to BBC News.