How do taste buds work?
NARRATOR 1: You asked us, how do taste buds work?
Taste buds are arranged like the inside of an orange, with 50 to 150 cells all lined up next to each other. Each of those cells has what's called a taste hair that pokes out of the top.
The hairs are geared to tune into the presence of a particular chemical. And when they do, they send a signal to the brain that says, hey, you're eating something sour, or sweet or whatever.
Thousands of taste buds are found, not just in our tongues, but also in the roofs of our mouths and in our throats.
We used to think that different tastes, like salty or sweet, could only be sensed by buds on specific areas of our tongues. But now we know that each bud has receptors for all five tastes, sweet, sour, salty, bitter and umami.
Combined with our sense of smell, taste buds help us survive. We steer clear of bitter tasting, poisonous and rotting food and instead eat our nutrient-rich morsels of sweet, salty or savory goodness.
It's making me hungry just thinking about it. I mean, who's up for a spaghetti basket?
NARRATOR 2: What?
NARRATOR 1: For more stories like this, check us out everyday at smithsonian.com. Mm, spaghetti basket.
Critical thinking challenge: Why are tastes based on chemicals?