Mmmm. Do you smell that? Fresh baked bread…bubbling cheese…spicy pepperoni. Someone's cooking homemade pizza! If you think about it hard enough, you can probably almost taste it. Can't you?

Imagine your favorite foods: pizza, ice cream, lasagna, tacos, pretzels, cereal…the list probably goes on and on. Why do you like these foods? Is it because of their nutritional value? No! You love the taste!

But have you ever stopped to WONDER about exactly how it is that you taste these foods? You probably know it has something to do with your tongue, but exactly what does the tongue do?

The tongue is covered with tiny little bumps called papillae. They help grip your food as you're eating it. They also contain your taste buds, which are made up of tiny hairs called microvilli.

That's right! Your tongue is hairy, but you can't see them without a microscope. Those tiny hairs do very important work. They send messages to your brain about the food you taste, letting you know whether it's sweet, salty, sour, or bitter.

The average person has over 10,000 taste buds. Taste buds wear out and get replaced about every two weeks. Over time, not all taste buds get replaced. Older adults might only have 5,000 or so functioning taste buds. That helps to explain why not all foods taste the same way to all people.

As great as your tongue is, foods wouldn't taste the same without another important part of your body. What is it? Your nose knows!

As you chew your food, chemicals are released from the food. These chemicals travel up your nose where olfactory receptors detect them and send messages to your brain that help you fully appreciate the flavor of the food you're eating.

Without your nose, foods wouldn't taste the same. Have you ever noticed that food don't taste quite as good when you have a cold? That's because your olfactory receptors can't detect the chemicals from your food when your nose is stuffy. As a result, your brain doesn't get the same signals and your food doesn't taste quite like it normally does.

You can test this out for yourself. Have a friend get you a small sample of ice cream, but keep the flavor a secret. Now hold your nose when you taste it. You can probably tell that it's sweet, because your tongue's taste buds send that message to your brain. You probably can't tell the exact flavor, though, until you let go of your nose and smell it!

Wonder What's Next?

If you’re coming to Wonderopolis tomorrow, you’d better bring your I.D.!