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I've seen quite a few of these "tongue maps", showing discrete borders between taste zones and often conflicting setups, like these two:

Anecdotally, I can feel all tastes all over the tongue, more or less equally well, so I don't really understand what these map are supposed to indicate.

Does the tongue have different taste zones as shown?

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And where's umami? – Sklivvz Nov 29 '11 at 9:45
@Sklivvz: In Japan apparently :-) – Zano Nov 29 '11 at 9:48
Those "tongue maps" are missing umami. – ESultanik Nov 29 '11 at 13:46
This was covered extensively in :) – user5341 Nov 29 '11 at 15:20
up vote 34 down vote accepted

I remember learning the tongue map in school, but it's a myth.

From The New York Times:

In a study published in the journal Nature in 2006, a team of scientists reported that receptors for the basic tastes are found in distinct cells, and that these cells are not localized but spread throughout the tongue.

That said, other studies suggest that some parts may be more sensitive to certain flavors, and that there may be differences in the way men and women detect sour, salty and bitter flavors.

Origin of the myth:

The original myth stems back to the early 1900′s when a German reseacher named Hanig published data on taste sensitivity of different areas of the tongue.

The differences in sensitivity he reported were real — but they were so slight as to be of no practical significance. Nobody bothered to check or refute it until many years later, when the idea was already firmly rooted in our popular consciousness, and textbooks.

Source: Bartoshuk, L. M. 1993. The biological basis of food perception and acceptance. Food Qual. Pref. 4:21-32


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The two studies quoted seem to be contradictory. How can some parts be more sensitive to certain flavors if said sensitivity is due to cells that are spared throughout the tongue? – Dave Kennedy Dec 21 '14 at 16:39
@Koveras - Simple. They're spread throughout the tongue, but there are higher concentrations of certain cells in certain areas. If some parts of the tongue have 10% higher density of sweet-detecting cells, then those parts will have somewhat greater sensitivity to sweet. Not enough for people to really notice, but enough to be perceptible in a scientific study. – Glen O Apr 7 '15 at 15:37

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