Episode 6 – Tasty Tongues

How does the tongue taste?

hallux-leaningHello medical magpies and welcome to my blog post about building my very own human body.

Today Nurse Nanobot and I added a tongue to our body so he will be able to taste things.

The tongue is a sort of muscle – actually it is made up of several muscles which work together.  It’s the only muscle in your body which is only attached at one end. The front part is very flexible – it has to be to help you talk and move food about.

Press the play button above to listen to us explore the world of your tongue and also read loads of interesting facts below!

The Back

The back of your tongue is thicker.  Its job is to help move the food down your throat – or oesophagus – and also make the sounds of letters C and G.  If you try to say Go or Cake without moving your tongue you’ll see how it wants to help!


Underneath your tongue is the frenulum – it’s a thin piece of tissue which keeps your tongue in place – and stops you swallowing it with a gulp!

On Top

If you look very closely at your tongue you’ll see that it has bumps all over the top, although it’s smooth on the bottom.

There are so many bumps on the top that there are hardly any gaps between them.  These are the papillae.

You might have socks or soft slippers that have rubber spots on the bottom to stop you slipping. Well part of the papillae’s job is to do similar, helping to get a grip on the food and move it along.  They also contain the taste buds.


Taste buds can detect a wide variety of flavours – from sweet and sour through to bitter or salty flavours.  And you probably have twice as many taste buds as your parents do – we lose taste buds the older we get.

Each taste bud contains microscopic hairs called villi – these send messages to the brain about the taste coming in, and although it’s great to be able to enjoy all the terrific tastes, an important reason that things have tastes is to help us avoid danger – to stop you eating something that is poisonous or has ‘gone off’ like drinking milk that is too old.

Cold things prevent the messages getting through to the brain as quickly as normal, and so that’s why ice cream won’t taste as sweet as a milk shake.  Although both are tasty!

But it’s not just your tongue that helps you taste – your nose plays an important role in taste.  There are special things up your nose called olfactory receptors.  They’re a bit like the villi that send messages about taste – but they do the job for smell.

Now taste and smell are very closely connected – things that smell good usually taste good too – and if something smells bad, its unlikely you’ll want to put it in your mouth.  The smell of food also adds to the taste – if you eat a spoonful of curry when you’re holding your nose you might find it isn’t as tasty..

Nurse Nanobot’s Orrible Old Anatomy Factnanobot

Newts tongues might sound like something from a witches brew!

However, it’s exactly the sort of ingredient the herbalists six hundred years ago would have used in their potions to cure their patients – another ingredient was worms livers!.

Disgusting Details

Drool, dribble, hallux-bodypartsslobber spit are all names for saliva. This is the not very nice stuff out of your mouth, whether it’s from a slobbery dog or someone naughty spitting – yuck!

Some people have a fear of saliva – normally other people’s – and that phobia has a very curious name: Queunliskanphobia – quite a mouthful!

> Visit the Professor Hallux Builds a Body Homepage
> Download the free Builds a Body podcast from iTunes