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Lockdown Day 54 – Gustatory Sense

Education of the Senses

In previous posts, we have explored the development of the ‘major’ senses, such as the visual, auditory, tactile and olfactory senses. Today, we explore the GUSTATORY sense – the sense of taste.

For some reason, the gustatory sense is often seen as being a ‘minor’ sense. Yet – this is one of the senses that has kept human beings alive for centuries! Our early ancestors had to eat to survive (as we do) yet their vision and hearing (that was essential for avoiding predators) was not very effective on determining what was, and was not, safe to eat. It was the gustatory sense that provided early man with a ‘food map’. Poisonous or indigestible plants are mostly bitter whereas fruit with its high carbohydrate content for energy is sweet.

Taste is perhaps deemed ‘minor’ because it is made up of just a few qualities: sweet, salty, sour, bitter and umami (or savoury). We perceive these tastes through taste buds on the tongue and soft palate. It was previously thought that humans had a ‘taste map’ on the tongue where different areas of the tongue perceived different tastes. This has however over the last years proved incorrect. All taste qualities are perceived on all areas of the tongue.

Here are the main taste profiles:


Calorie-rich carbohydrates which are an important energy source for humans are naturally sweet, and therefore most pleasant!


Salt (sodium chloride) is an essential food for humans and we are therefore programmed to have a need for this taste.


Foods taste sour because of their acid content. As acids can be corrosive, humans tend to initially reject sour tastes as they are not necessarily beneficial to the human body.


Bitter tasting foods can signify potential toxicity and are again often initially rejected by babies. There are however many bitter tastes can be learned to be enjoyed, for example, bitter chocolate and coffee!


Umami (or savoury) is most often linked to glutamate which is a common component of food proteins that are necessary for humans to grow and repair tissue.



Exploring tastes are a great way of getting your child to understand what s/he is eating and also allows the child to use sorting and categorisation skills to classify the foods.

  • Place a small amount of a different food type into each compartment of a muffin pan
  • Invite the child to come and join you on a gustatory journey!
  • Give the child an age-appropriate explanation of how we taste foods using the explanations given above, and introduce the child to the five main tastes. You may wish to have these tastes ready in five egg cups for this part of the journey. For example: invite the child to taste sugar, and name it as sweet. Salt – salty. Lemon – sour. Bitter chocolate – bitter. Cheddar cheese – umami.
  • Once the child has had an experience of the taste perceptions, you can now proceed with the foods in the muffin pan. Taste each food and decide where it fits.