The tongue is one of the components of the oral cavity or mouth , which is the beginning of the digestive system. This system fulfills the function of incorporating food, disintegrating it, absorbing its nutrients and eliminating waste from these processes. The tongue is the organ of the sense of taste and accompanies the teeth in the task of dividing food.The tongue is lubricated by saliva , which is a liquid secreted by the major and minor salivary glands, and which plays a fundamental role in the integrity of the soft and hard oral tissues, in the processing of food to form and swallow the bolus. food and control infections in the mouth.

What is the tongue for?

The tongue participates both in the process of disintegrating a food to nourish us , and in enjoying it and exploring it with the sense of taste .

The tongue serves to:

  • Wrapping food in saliva
  • Add enzymes to food to break it down better
  • Move food into the mouth so that the teeth grind it
  • Perceive the flavors with your taste buds
  • Licking food that is too big to put in the mouth
  • Cleaning the lips when they have been stained
  • Moisten the lips a little when they are dry

The tongue and the sense of taste

The tongue is responsible for knowing the properties of the food that we take to the digestive system. Thanks to the fact that it can be extended, we can feel an ice cream bar without having to put it in our mouth, for example. We will know the texture, temperature, hardness, consistency and flavor of the food.

The tongue, which provides the sense of taste , works in conjunction with the sense of smell, which captures the particles that come off and dissolve in the air, capturing information in the vicinity of the food. The aroma that the food gives off passes through the cavity between the nose and the mouth (the nasopharynx) and reaches the olfactory cells.

Thanks to the sense of taste, you can savor food. Savoring is detecting the experience of the food that is obtained between the sense of taste and smell. The substances are required to enter the mouth, dissolve in saliva, and come into contact with the tongue. The tongue moves the food in the mouth, helping to taste it and the teeth grind it.

The taste that is perceived in food is determined by chemical sensations. The 80% of what is detected as flavor comes from the sense of smell. This is why flavors disappear when we have a cold. The airways are partially blocked and there can be no chemical contact with the aromas.

The tongue and taste buds

The tongue is endowed with five types of taste buds, which are sensors distributed in specific regions of the tongue. These can detect the different flavors that have been classified according to the taste stimulus they give:

  • Appetizer flavors: Sweet, salty and umami
  • Aversive flavors: Bitter, sour

The sweet taste comes from the carbohydrates contained in the food. In the case of fruits, fructose is detected, in the case of sweets, sucrose is recognized, and in carbonated drinks, dextrose is found, which is industrially produced glucose.

The salty taste comes from the content of mineral salts in the food. When cooking, sodium chloride is used as an agent to enhance the entire experience of what is being prepared.

The umami flavor is produced by the detection of amino acids in proteins. It was identified by a Japanese researcher named Kikune Ikeda in the early 1900’s. Its stimulation can be intensified by adding monosodium glutamate to food.

The bitter taste is detected in the content of harmful compounds, toxins, poisons. Examples are the alkaloids in plants, which are stimulant substances, such as theobromine and caffeine.

The sour taste occurs due to the immaturity of the fruits or the rottenness of the food. It is due to the content of ascorbic acid (vitamin C) or citric acid.

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    Dr. Samantha Robson ( CRN: 0510146-5) is a nutritionist and website content reviewer related to her area of ​​expertise. With a postgraduate degree in Nutrition from The University of Arizona, she is a specialist in Sports Nutrition from Oxford University and is also a member of the International Society of Sports Nutrition.