A toast to the tongue
an associate professor at the Faculty of
Medicine and Dentistry at the University
of Alberta. The taste buds live on tiny
protrusions on the tongue—that rough
While the tongue’s taste buds help
us enjoy our food (or not, as the case
may be), this muscle is also important
for eating. “It helps position your food
in your mouth and helps you guide
different food to different areas on your
biting surfaces, your teeth,” Walji says.
The tongue is also vital for talking.
“You couldn’t say a single word if your
tongue wasn’t working,” says Walji. The
larynx (deep in the throat) and pharynx
(at the back of the throat) produce sound,
but the tongue creates speech. “The
shapes those noises into intelligible
sounds,” he says.
The tongue is also a major player in
swallowing saliva, something we do a
thousand times a day without thinking.
And, it has a romantic role too. “But I will
leave that to your imagination,” Walji says.
If eyes are the windows to the soul,
the tongue is definitely a window
to your overall health. “If you have
gastrointestinal upset or if you’re not
feeling well, your tongue gets coated or
if you’re suffering from too much blood
loss and you’re anaemic, your tongue
gets pale,” says Walji. “It’s important to
examine the tongue because it gives you
a lot of clues to systemic illness.”
— Jennifer Allford
Aristotle was one of the first to list
the flavours our tongues experience—
sweet, bitter, sour and salty—which
along with a fifth, savory (or umami)
make up the list today. (Aristotle’s
list also included astringent, pungent
and harsh, which is, perhaps, more a
comment on the cuisine of the day).
For decades, we thought different taste
buds on different parts of the tongue
taste different flavours. In fact, every
taste bud on your tongue (and those on
the roof of your mouth, inner cheeks
and back of the throat) can taste all five
flavours, although some areas are more
sensitive than others.
“Generally speaking, you feel bitter
on the sides, sweet in the front and
sour in the back,” says Dr. Anil Walji,
This muscle adds flavour and conversation to our lives