Our individual taste in food may be affected by our distinct patterns on our tongues.
Our tongues are more unique than we may realize, with variations in size, texture (such as length, sliminess, width, bumpiness, fissures, and fur), and even how they are attached to the mouth.
A study on 3D scans of human tongues proposes that each person may possess a distinct “tongue print” similar to their unique fingerprints. This finding could provide insight into the varying food preferences among individuals and aid in developing healthier but still tasty alternatives to fatty and sugary foods.
Our tongues are intricate and advanced body parts, measuring approximately 10cm long. They are mostly hidden, with only the front two-thirds visible. Covered in numerous tiny bumps called papillae, our tongues contain hundreds of tastebuds and also have the ability to detect texture, friction, lubrication, and touch.
Rayna Andreeva, a PhD student at the University of Edinburgh, who led the research, stated that these sensory functions are essential for handling and moving food and liquids within the mouth.
Our perception of friction and lubrication may impact our psychological responses to food, such as our level of satisfaction after eating. It may also affect our preference for specific foods, like chocolate.
Although the flavor perception of papillae has been extensively studied, there is limited understanding of the variations in papillae shapes, sizes, and patterns among individuals.
Andreeva and her team conducted research by training AI computer models using numerous microscopic scans of individual papillae. These scans were obtained from silicone moulds of 15 individuals’ tongues, providing data on their size, characteristics, and placement on the surface of the tongues.
A recent study, published in Scientific Reports, discovered that one papilla can reasonably indicate a person’s gender and age, with a range of 67%-75% accuracy. Interestingly, from the group of 15 participants, the individual could also be distinguished with approximately 48% accuracy (compared to a random guess of 6.66%).
The authors stated that although more research is required to verify this in a larger sample size, the study suggests that tongue papillae may serve as distinctive identifiers.
Prof Rik Sarkar from the University of Edinburgh stated that they were amazed by the individual distinctiveness of these micron-sized features.
Examining the diversity of papillae distribution among people and populations may offer novel perspectives on preferences for certain foods and associations between tongue characteristics and different health issues.
The study could potentially assist with creating customized food options. Sakar explained, “Just imagine being able to design food that caters to the individual needs of certain individuals and at-risk populations, guaranteeing they receive adequate nutrition while still enjoying their meals.”
For example, he suggested that gaining a deeper comprehension of the physiological processes involved when individuals consume chocolate could potentially result in alternatives that provide a comparable experience and sensation, but with less fat.