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  • This interactive shows the mechanisms of human taste.

    Select here to go the transcript.

    The human tongue is a complex structure made of four different types of papillae. It is in three of these structures that the taste buds are located. Taste buds are located in pores in the papillae and are responsible for you being able to taste a huge array of different flavours and tastes. This complex functioning is a new model that replaces the old model where by people use to believe that different parts of the tongue detected different types of taste.

    Click on the labels in the interactive to learn more about the different parts of the tongue and the role the parts play in ‘sensing taste’.

    Points of interest

    • ‘Umami’ is the term for what most of us know as a ‘savoury taste’
    • Papillae don’t just house the taste buds – they also provide friction for the chewing process.


    Taste introduction

    Taste is one of the main functions of the tongue.

    On the upper surface of the tongue, there are many small bumps, or papillae, that house the taste buds.

    There are about 10,000 taste buds on the tongue.

    The taste buds allow us to determine if something is sweet, sour, salty, bitter or umami (savoury).

    Image: University of Waikato

    Circumvallate papillae

    There are 9–14 circumvallate papillae on the back of the tongue arranged in a V formation pointing towards the throat. They are peg-like structures with a large number of taste buds arranged in tiers in troughs on their inner walls.

    Image: University of Waikato

    Taste buds in action


    Each taste bud contains 30–50 taste receptor cells arranged like a bunch of bananas. Each cell has tiny hair-like structures, called microvilli, that stick up towards the taste bud surface and form a taste pore.

    Taste molecules of food touch the taste pores and bind to the microvilli. These ‘tastes’ are changed into chemical and electrical messages, which travel along the nerves to the brain, where the tastes are identified.

    Video: University of Waikato

    Taste buds

    Taste buds are found in the epithelial tissue lining the fungiform, circumvallate and foliate papillae, but not the filiform papillae. Although they are found mainly on the tongue, there are a few in other places, like the mouth, pharynx and epiglottis.

    Image: University of Waikato

    Fungiform papillae

    Fungiform papillae are mostly concentrated at the tip and sides of the tongue. They are shaped like button mushrooms and have taste buds embedded in their upper surface.

    Image: University of Waikato

    Fungiform papillae

    Filiform papillae are found in large numbers across the tongue’s surface. They are cone-shaped structures that don’t contain taste buds, so have no taste function. Each papilla has brush-like structures called secondary papillae projecting from its tip. They are abrasive giving the tongue a cleaning, rasping action and helping grip food.

    Filiform papillae give the tongue a velvety or furry appearance.

    Image: University of Waikato

    Foliate papillae

    Foliate papillae are clustered on each side of the tongue in the transverse folds found there. Taste buds are found in these folds.

    Image: University of Waikato

    Rights: University of Waikato Published 1 February 2011, Updated 5 April 2018 Size: 200 KB Referencing Hub media
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