California State University Long Beach researchers have discovered that a person’s ability to recognize complex taste and flavors in food and drinks – like wine – isn’t dependent on the tongue.
This was the first research to use real food or beverage when looking at taste, said Kristin Mahood, CSULB Family and Consumer Sciences lecturer and lead researcher on the study. Simple non-food solutions had been used in past studies.
“Our approach was more reflective of reality, since no one consumes food or beverages with a single taste or flavor,” she said.
While studying an exceptionally rare condition known as Isolated Congenital Aglossia, in which a person is born without a tongue, Mahood and CSULB assistant professor Long Wang chose to look at people’s abilities to taste complex flavors. They discovered a person with ICA and a naïve wine taster without the condition had similar taste perception.
The findings, published in the Journal of Communication Disorders, Deaf Studies and Hearing Aids,might help those who no longer have tongues through cancer and other diseases improve their diet, nutrition and quality of life, Mahood said.
Mahood and Wang plan to expand their research to assess and compare how people’s sense of taste changes through the natural aging process. They also hope to apply the findings to more common conditions beyond ICA to head and neck injuries, cancer, Alzheimer’s disease and autism.
“This sheds exciting light on the potential for new rehabilitation strategies for the loss of taste function,” Wang said. “We could potentially train our brains to sense certain taste stimuli.”
Click here to learn more about Mahood’s research.