TASTE Reference Sheet Handout


Consultants in Dysphagia Evaluation and Management
817-514-MBS1 or 1-888-514-MBS1
By: Ronda Polansky M.S. CCC-SLP
Now That’s Tasty!

DELICIOUS, Scrumptious, delectable, BLAND, unpalatable, Stale, awful, YUMMY,


Just a few of many words to describe taste, but they also describe smell and the two are often linked together.

Actually there is a 5th basic taste called “Umami” which has recently been discovered.  Umami is a taste that occurs when foods with glutamate (like MSG) are eaten.
Umami is a Japanese word meaning savory, a “deliciousness” factor deriving specifically from detection of the natural amino acid, glutamic acid, or glutamates common in meats, cheese, broth, stock, and other protein-heavy foods. The action of umami receptors explains why foods treated with monosodium glutamate (MSG) often taste “heartier”.Umami is hard to translate, to judge by the number of English words that have been suggested as equivalents, such as savoury, essence, pungent, deliciousness, and meaty. It’s sometimes associated with a feeling of perfect quality in a taste, or of some special emotional circumstance in which a taste is experienced. At the beginning of the twentieth century, Professor Kikunae Ikeda of Tokyo Imperial University was thinking about the taste of food: “There is a taste which is common to asparagus, tomatoes, cheese and meat but which is not one of the four well-known tastes of sweet, sour, bitter and salty.”
For food to have taste it must dissolve in water.  Different parts of the tongue can detect all different types of taste.  The actual organ of taste is called a “taste bud”


Each taste bud  ( and there are approximately 10,000 taste buds in humans) is made up of many receptor cells ( 50-150).  They only love for 1-2 weeks and are replaced by new receptor cells.  Taste buds are small structures on the upper surface of the tongue, soft palate, and epiglottis that provide information about the taste of food being eaten. The majority of taste buds on the tongue sit on raised protrusions of the tongue surface called papillae.
As you get older you tend to lose taste buds and your sense of taste is weakened. Taste buds can be dulled or even damaged if they are irritated by extreme heat or cold, infections, a dry mouth, smoking, spicy foods, extremely sour foods, and some medications. Some people are sensitive to a particular food, such as walnuts, which may cause soreness in their mouth.

Ageusia – complete inability to taste. This is rare.
Hypogeusia – reduced ability to taste. Found in the elderly
Hypergeusia – Enhanced ability to taste

Taste disorders can be caused by drugs used to treat epilepsy, Parkinson’s Disease, diabetes and high blood pressure. Damage to the areas of the brain such as the brain stem, thalamus, and cerebral cortex may also cause taste problems.  This may be why your patients do not want to eat and intake has declined.

Two cranial nerves that intervate the tongue and are used for taste are:
1. Facial nerve (CN V11)
2. Glossopharyngeal nerve (CN IX). 
3. Another cranial nerve, Vagus (CN X) carries taste information from the back part of the mouth. 
The Trigeminal Nerve (CN V) carries information related t o touch, pressure, temperature, and pain.


  • Plastic cups
  • Food coloring
  • A variety of fruit juices (e.g. orange, apple, pineapple, lemon, orange and mango)

What to do:

  • Pour a small amount of each juice into plastic cups.
  • Add a few drops of red, blue or green food coloring to disguise the real color of each juice.
  • Ask someone to taste each juice and identify the flavor.
    Which juice is the easiest to guess?
  • Try the test on someone else, but ask them to hold their nose while they taste the juice.
    Do they find it difficult to guess the flavor?

The smell of food is part of its taste, so if we can’t smell a food, we can’t taste it properly.
Sense-sational Facts:

  • A giraffe’s tongue can be 29 inches in length
  • The tongue of nectar bat can extend to 150% of its body length
  • The tongue of a chameleon can extend to 200% of its body length. We have almost 10,000 taste buds inside our mouths; even on the roofs of our mouths.
  • Insects have the most highly developed sense of taste. They have taste organs on their feet, antennae, and mouthparts.
  • Fish can taste with their fins and tail as well as their mouth.
  • In general, girls have more taste buds than boys.
  • Taste is the weakest of the five senses.