Whether you sprinkle red pepper flakes on everything or prefer a cheesecake doused in extra chocolate sauce, it’s all a matter of taste. But how do all of those little taste buds work? And can you really damage them by munching on jalapeños? Check out these tall tales and truths about your taste buds:
Myth: Eating spicy food damages your taste buds.
Fact: The substance capsaicin is found in spicy foods and works by binding to pain receptors in the brain, sending a hot, burning signal to the body. While they can be temporarily damaged by extreme spice or temperatures, taste buds grow back every two weeks, so it’s generally nothing to worry about, according to the Palo Alto Medical Foundation. However, fewer grow back as you get older, which is why kids can handle more intense ice cream sundaes than grownups.
Myth: Some people are “supertasters.”
Fact: Taste buds are nestled in the tiny bumps on our tongues called papillae. Scientists have discovered that so-called “supertasters” get an increased sensitivity to fatty, bitter and sweet flavors from having a much higher density of papillae. Though it sounds like a power one of the X-Men would possess, supertasters sometimes don’t get enough nutrients because of their sensitivity to bitter but healthy foods like leafy greens. If you fall into that category, try eating veggies in a different way, such as pureed instead of steamed.
Myth: Flavors are determined by the tongue’s “map.”
Fact: In elementary school, you were probably taught that you taste “sweet” at the front of your tongue and “bitter” in the back. Rather, tastes are picked up all across your tongue, research has found. This one doesn’t have much practical application, but if you’ve always wanted to argue with your second-grade teacher, this could be your big chance.