Taste buds: functions, types and disorders

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The ability to perceive flavors is one of the most impressive senses. It involves different elements, such as the sense of smell and the taste buds. Thanks to these, we can taste the 5 main flavors: sour, sweet, bitter, salty and umami.

But what exactly are the taste buds? How do they work? What are the most common afflictions of the taste buds? Let’s see.

what are taste buds?

Taste buds are receptors located all over the tongue. According to some estimates, they may number as many as 10,000. And although it is possible that some may deteriorate over time, the tongue has the ability to regenerate new ones. In this way, the sense of taste can continue to be enjoyed.

Taste buds are visible on the tongue. This is because they protrude and are shaped like dots or buttons. Further examination reveals the cilia, which are responsible for the information obtained reaching the brain.

Types of taste buds

Taste buds are divided into 4 categories. Héctor Vallés, professor of otorhinolaryngology, mentions them.

  1. Goblet taste buds. Their main characteristic is their large size, although the number of taste buds is low. Thanks to them, it is possible to perceive the bitter taste.
  2. Fungiformes. These are in charge of capturing the sweet taste, one of the most frequent in most foods and beverages
  3. Filiform. They are cone-like in shape. They are not intended for a particular flavor. Their function is related to the protection of the tongue.
  4. Foliated. Compared to the rest of the papillae, they are less developed. They are located on the edges of the tongue.

Functions of the taste buds

Taste buds are divided on the tongue. Therefore, each different taste is detected by a different part of the tongue. The National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, NIDCD, in the United States, reveals in detail the functions of each one.

Goblet papillae

The function of the goblet papillae is to detect bitter taste. But there is much more involved in that job. Any unpleasant taste is also sensed. Since they are located at the back of the tongue, that is, the area closest to the pharynx, when faced with tastes that go beyond the person’s tolerance capacity, nausea and vomiting are activated.


Its name, associated with fungi, is due to the shape of the fungiform papillae. As they are responsible for detecting a pleasant taste, sweetness, they are located on the front of the tongue


The function of these papillae is more related to texture and temperature. This means that if a food is too hot or too rough to be digested, the filiform papillae will let you know. This protects the mouth area as well as the digestive tract and stomach.


Like the goblet and fungiform papillae, the foliate papillae have the function of detecting tastes, particularly saltiness. In combination with the other two, they are capable of detecting all existing tastes.

Alterations of the taste buds

Like other parts of the body, the taste buds can be altered. Usually, the reason is related to some disease. The U.S. National Library of Medicine points out the main ones.


Papillitis refers to the appearance of some malformations on the tongue. Although they are usually small, they have the capacity to affect the sense of taste, mainly the papillae that detect sweetness

This condition may be due to several factors. Experts reveal that stress is one of the causes. It could also occur if you are in the habit of eating very spicy foods

It is a good idea to see a doctor to find out the seriousness of the situation, although this condition tends to heal naturally within a few days

Toxic elements

Ingesting any chemical can seriously affect both the sense of taste and health. The same applies to those who smoke tobacco or consume alcohol on a frequent basis. The components of these elements affect the ability to perceive flavors

Over time, if this behavior is not corrected, the taste buds are diminished. Although their capacity is not completely lost, up to 80 or 90% of flavors may not be perceived.

Very strong flavors

As we have already pointed out, very unpleasant tastes trigger the gag reflex, and even vomiting. However, this is not the case with acidic or spicy tastes. When they exceed the consumer’s tolerance capacity, they affect the tongue and papillae, making it impossible to detect some flavors.

A doctor can be consulted, but as Mayo Clinic points out, it is a temporary condition. The suggestion is to avoid eating very spicy or acidic foods, at least frequently. If the taste buds have already been damaged, it is best to avoid rubbing other items against the affected area.


The taste buds are on the surface of the tongue, so they are very exposed. When the tongue is injured, it is normal to lose the ability to perceive flavors in that area. To recover it, it is necessary to eliminate the cause. In other words, the wound must be healed.

Covid 19

One of the most recent diseases, covid 19, causes temporary loss of taste bud function. Now, as the perception of flavors is closely related to the sense of smell, when the latter is lost, it is normal to disable the former.

In some cases, when there is no sense of smell, it will only be possible to perceive the main taste, acid, sweet, salty, etc., but without being able to make any further distinction.taste buds play a very important role. If they did not exist, food would not be the same. Therefore, it is of great importance to take care of them.

Isaac Escudero Bermudez
Isaac Escudero Bermudezhttps://www.google.com/search?kgmid=/g/11p5jlt4n9
Degree in Dentistry from the University of Valencia and Master's Degree from the University of Alcalá. Doctorate and committed to Human Health

Aunque pueda contener afirmaciones, datos o apuntes procedentes de instituciones o profesionales sanitarios y la información contenida en PharmaSalud esté redactada por profesionales en medicina, recomendamos al lector que cualquier duda relacionada con la salud sea consultada con un profesional del ámbito sanitario.

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