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Beer myth: Tongue taste map

Had I made a list of significant beer events in 2006 I surely would have mentioned the arrival of three new glossy magazines, two of them – Draft and Beer Advocate – dedicated to beer and a third – Imbibe – about beer and other drinks.

Just a year ago you could find just one, All About Beer, at the newsstand. (That’s not to overlook two magazines devoted to homebrewing or all the regional brewspapers.)

We should be happy about the change. That typed, I’ve got to shake my head at the “Test your tongue” feature in DRAFT.

In this two-page spread you have photos of three people opening their mouths widely and sticking out their tongues. We get the details on three beers (in other words, one per mouth). There are words about how each tastes on the sides of the tongue, how each tastes on the tip (always emphasizing sweetness), and how each tastes on the back (discussing bitterness), with lines pointing to the various places on the tongue.

Hope that all makes sense to you – you might might find it easier to understand if you just pick up a copy (at many Borders and Barnes & Noble stores).

I’ve got three problems with this feature:

– It’s unsightly.
– It’s based on a factually incorrect tongue taste map. We basically taste everything everywhere we have taste buds, not in particular areas. The map arose early in the 20th century as a result of a misinterpretation of research reported in the late 1800s. If you Google the subject you’ll find the map is still being presented as fact. But here’s the real truth.
– There’s little discussion of flavor beyond sweetness, sourness and bitterness. And there’s nothing about aroma.

Aroma is worth a four-part series, but to make the point I ask you only that you take a good-size sip of your favorite beer. Now hold your nose and do it again.

Class over. Enjoy the rest of the beer.

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3 Responses to Beer myth: Tongue taste map

  1. Steve Beaumont January 25, 2007 at 9:22 pm #

    At last year’s Great American Beer Festival, a friend of mine suggested that I take a look at Draft, largely because “it probably won’t be around for long.” ‘Nuff said.

    (I never did get around to perusing Draft, but I do like Imbibe.)

  2. Saint Vini February 9, 2007 at 5:01 pm #

    Funny how this keeps cropping up. In the wine world (which you appear to follow as well), Riedel makes different glasses for different wines, with the idea that the different shape somehow directs the liquid to the right parts of your tongue. Clearly, liquid seeks its own level in the mouth and the wine will do as it pleases regardless of the shape of the glass, yet Riedel has made a fortune off the urban legend about a tongue map. I wrote about it in more detail here .

    St. Vini

  3. Stan Hieronymus February 9, 2007 at 6:02 pm #

    Interesting read, particularly as beer glassware gets more attention.

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