Testing the Tongue Mapping Theory

Remember testing the tongue mapping theory in elementary school? We were told that the tongue was divided into different sections. Each section was meant to taste either salty, sour, bitter or sweet. I clearly remember sitting in class, watching the teacher go around the class, dropping a drip of mystery fluid onto each student’s tongue. According to the teacher and the tongue map, we were only supposed to taste bitter at the back of our tongue, sweet at the tip, and bitter and sour on the sides. I remember sitting in confusion. First of all, why would the tongue have a useless area in the middle? And secondly, there must be something weird going on with my tongue, because I could taste everything no matter where she dropped the drop.

A Great Lesson

Question everything! Come to find out, my little elementary school self was right! Shortly after I learned about tongue mapping, this unscientific myth was debunked. The original research was published back in 1901 by a German scientist named D.P. Hanig. He suggested that there may be areas of increased sensitivity to the different tastes, but certainly no map. I told this story to my children as we were learning about taste buds. We decided that we should test the tongue mapping theory ourselves.

We first drew and cut out a big mouth and tongue so that we could document our findings.

Testing the Tongue Mapping Theory

Taste Buds

While cutting out our mouth and tongue, we learned a little anatomy. Looking carefully at each others’ tongues, we could see the taste buds all over the tongue. We talked about how these taste buds are made up of different cells that send messages to your brain, telling you what you are tasting.

Testing the Tongue Mapping Theory

Clark and Luci Learn Taste Test Booklet

Using this little documentation tool (FREE DOWNLOAD HERE), we tested several different foods. We wanted to see if we could identify the taste, and if we could only taste it in a certain spot.

We used whatever we had available, which included maple syrup, apple cider vinegar, lemon essential oil, organic cane sugar, red wine vinegar, minerals, soy sauce and salt.

Testing the Tongue Mapping Theory

Testing the Tongue Mapping Theory

Using a Q-tip, I dropped a taste of each item on their tongues. I made sure that they had a chance to taste it in the different areas of the tongue. We even tried it with our noses plugged to see if that made a difference – which it definitively did!

There were lots of squeals of delight and disgust, as they identified each item and documented their findings on their sheet.

Testing the Tongue Mapping Theory

Testing the Tongue Mapping Theory

Our conclusion was that it didn’t matter where I put the drop, it could still be tasted. There are no specific areas on the tongue that only taste certain things. So, unlike the still-popular tongue map with bitter at the back and sweet at the front, we made our own map. Clark and Luci, wrote down on the tongue that we had cut out where they tasted each taste – which was everywhere!

Testing the Tongue Mapping Theory

Testing the Tongue Mapping Theory

What a valuable lesson! Never blindly accept what you are told. Do your research! Question EVERYTHING!

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