You’ve got about 10,000 taste buds, not just on your tongue but on the sides, back and roof of your mouth. Their job is to run a check on anything you put in there and detect sweetness, saltiness, sourness, bitterness and umami. It’s all about survival – sweetness is the key to energy rich foods (get more of those!), and bitterness is the signature of a wide range of poisons (spit that out! Unless it’s coffee, in which case take 20 years to learn to like it and then bore your friends in your relentless quest for the perfect cortado).
Scientists researching taste have developed a digital lollipop – an electronic device that stimulates the nerves in the taste buds with electric currents to create virtual tastes. The device can replicate sweet, sour, salty and bitter. It’s currently being used for medical research, but might one day allow TV viewers to taste the food on cookery programmes.
But the weird world of flavours you experience now is nothing compared to what you could taste in the womb. By the time you were born, you had about 30,000 taste buds – three times more than you do today. Wonderful You explores the development of taste – and the flavours that reached you in the womb.