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Celebrating Everyday Spirituality

Sunflower Seeds

Celebrating Everyday Spirituality

Have You Thanked Your Taste Buds Lately?

Taste buds are a fascinating part of our human anatomy. They are teeny weeny, but when viewed through an electron microscope, they look like “huge volcanoes on Mars” says Diane Ackerman in her book A Natural History of the Senses. (I will use her book as my primary reference here.) Adults have about 10,000 taste buds designed to register four different tastes: salt, sour,

Taste buds seen through an electron microscope.
Taste buds seen through an electron microscope.

sweet, bitter. Each taste bud consists of about 50 taste cells that relay information to a neuron which then alerts the brain. At the tip of the tongue, we taste sweet things; at the back of the tongue, bitter things; at the sides, sour things. We taste salty things over the entire surface of our tongue, but mainly in the front. You can test the location of your own taste buds by putting a dab of salt or sugar on your tongue. Or eat a pickle or a lemon and see where you taste it the most. Some foods, of course, stimulate more than one kind of taste bud.

Our taste buds wear our every seven to ten days. Our body replaces them, though not as frequently after age forty-five. I find all of this quite incredible. My body has been continuously replacing my taste buds my entire life—without my having to remind it to do so! Of course, my body has been replacing every part of me my entire life—from bones to tissue to fingernails—and I have been scarcely aware of it!

A baby has more taste buds than an adult. In fact, some of the baby’s taste buds are even in their cheeks. I guess this is nature’s way of making sure babies drink their milk. Milk must taste very good to them. Ackerman says that no two people “taste the same plum.” This means that individuals have different “tastes.”  Some can’t get enough salt while others can’t get enough sweets. Some love “painful” food like hot peppers. Others like their food more bland like boiled potatoes. Heredity plays a role in what tastes good to us as does age, habit, and even mood.

Culture greatly influences taste. The Masai in Tanzania, for example, enjoy drinking cow’s blood. Germans and Slavs (like me!) delight in eating rancid cabbage (sauerkraut). French eat garlic-soaked snails. And many people in the world dine on rodents and insects. We humans are omnivores. Unlike a koala bear who eats only eucalyptus leaves, humans will eat just about anything. To be an omnivore is handy. It’ s exciting. But it can also be dangerous. How many humans died before we learned some foods (like certain mushrooms) were toxic?

table spread

Our sense of smell contributes significantly to our sense of taste. When our nose is stuffed up, food might might not taste as good as it usually does. We normally chew food about a hundred times per minute. But Ackerman writes: “If we let food linger in our mouth, feel its texture, smell its bouquet, roll it around on our tongue, then chew it slowly so that we can hear its echoes, what we’re really doing is savoring it.” I wonder: how often do I really savor my food, that is, allow a food’s smell, taste, texture, and color to delight me? Or do I just gobble my food and run?

girl and peachjpg

Today, let us thank our taste buds for the wonderful job they do for us, encouraging us to eat and providing us with a wide variety of pleasurable tastes. And, while we’re at it, let us thank God, the Creator of our taste buds, for giving us this great gift we sometimes take for granted. As a way of showing our gratitude, let us take time today to savor our food—really savor it! Mmmmmm!



What foods do you find particularly tasty?

Do you savor your food?


26 Responses

  1. Great reflection Sr. Melannie.

    I enjoy soups of any kind that are vegetarian. Eating hot soup makes me slow down as I eat and helps me savor the flavor.



    1. Yes, Kathleen, eating hot soup does naturally slow us down. So does enjoying good conversation while dining. Often I eat lunch alone when I’m home writing. I used to eat lunch very fast. Then I decided on ways to slow me down. I work a crossword puzzle, read a children’s book, listen to classical music, work a sudoku. It helps. Thank you for your response. Sr. Melannie

  2. Definitely Turkey dinner. A few years ago, we had the “aha!” moment when we asked ourselves “Why are we waiting for Thanksgiving if we love turkey so much?”. So we make a turkey about once a quarter – and enjoy not only the turkey dinner, but the turkey sandwiches the next day, and the turkey noodle soup! After reading Sr Melanie’s post, I would add that being able to savor the same food in different ways is also a gift.

  3. Melanie,
    What a fascinating article! Thanks for sharing and pointing out how thoughtful God is to give us such simple pleasures.
    Look forward to your articles.
    Lenten blessings to you. Josita

  4. I would imagine you will get many responses to this fun and informative article. I hate to admit how wonderfully active my taste buds are. Being in the Midwest now I am exposed to different kinds of foods, but still love the “Wild West” tastes. Unfortunately, sweet, salty, and spicy are right at the top of my taste bud likes. It is remarkable how all parts of our makeup regenerate without our even knowing it.

    1. Dear Mary, Yes, how lucky we are to be exposed to all kinds of food–especially in the US and Canada with histories of immigration from a wide range of countries. Every immigrant group seems to bring along their own food–and we are the richer for it. Thanks for writing! Melannie

  5. Thanks Melannie.
    Your column reminds me of the short mealtime blessing said at The Hermitage Retreat Center in southwest Michigan, where every simple but delicious meal is prepared by the directors: “This is food: God’s love made edible.”

  6. Interesting, Melannie. Thank you. What I noticed is how over the years my taste has changed. Things I once liked a lot I don’t seem to like as much and things I didn’t care for I now like a lot. I do like almost anything and am never afraid to try something new.

    1. Yes, Marietta, our tastes really change throughout our life. I applaud the fact that you are never afraid to try something new. I hope that characteristic includes more than food! Thank you for your addition to my blog! Melannie

  7. Mary M, thanks for that simple blessing! My Italian grandmothers, aunts, and mother are living proof of that. They offer us food as part of their love. Sister Melanie, these facts are so interesting. What a great gift our taste buds are! When I taught school, we gulped our lunches down with little thought. Now that I am retired, I can enjoy my meals more. After reading this reflection, I will slow down even more. We are lucky to have food–let us enjoy it!

  8. Hi Melannie,
    It’s so strange that your reading today was on taste buds! After receiving the Eucharist this morning, I was talking with Jesus. I certainly do not mean this with any disrespect but I couldn’t help but say “O Jesus, you taste a little ‘stale’ this morning.” Then I thought about how I am getting older myself and a little stale perhaps in what I am able to do. So I just ask for and treasure His life giving presence even if my taste buds aren’t what they used to be!

    1. Hi, Kathy! What a beautiful addition to my blog! And what a lovely insight to what I said. Yes, we are to “treasure His life-giving presence” within us–no matter what condition we’re in! Thanks for writing! Melannie

  9. I believe there is a distinct difference between “rancid” and “fermented”. Please give your ethnic gourmet food its due!

    1. Dear Tom, Your point is well taken. HOWEVER, my Dad used to make sauerkraut in our basement. And while it was fermenting, it smelled pretty rancid (that is, “offensive”)! Thanks for writing! Melannie

  10. My favorite all time thing to eat is Tiramisu, but then I also love a tangerine eaten fresh out of the pealed skin. Thanks for a fun article, never knew how important my taste buds were before, another reminder how our Creator is so awesome!

  11. Your blog this week brought to mind watching a woman in a busy airport crouched amongst her several carry-on bags at a gate, no seats available, rapidly eating a hot beef sandwich that had a wonderful aroma. She was entirely focused on consuming it as rapidly as possible as we were about to board for a long flight. A bit hungry myself I kept thinking what a shame she can’t enjoy such a fine sandwhich.

  12. Hi Sr. Melannie

    Thank you for this great taste bud article. I enjoyed reading all the responses! My Mom still cans tomatoes ( at 85) and the aroma in the house instantly awakens your taste buds! I noticed that when I do my 3 day lemon, cayenne pepper and maple syrup fast, my taste buds are renewed. We are indeed; wonderfully-made! Looking forward to your next blog!

    1. Dear Nancy, I’m glad you liked the article and the responses. Congratulations to your Mom for still canning tomatoes at age 85. I have experienced how evocative aromas can be. Aha! A Topic for a future blog! And thanks for the tip about renewing your taste buds! Sr. Melannie

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Hi and welcome to my blog! I’m Sister Melannie, a Sister of Notre Dame residing in Chardon, Ohio, USA. I’ve been very lucky! I was raised in a loving family on a small farm in northeast Ohio. I also entered the SNDs right after high school. Over the years, my ministries have included high school and college teaching, novice director, congregational leadership, spiritual direction, retreat facilitating, and writing. I hope you enjoy “Sunflower Seeds” and will consider subscribing below. I’d love to have you in our “sunflower community.” Thank you!

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