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Taste is one of the most common and fundamental of the senses in life on Earth. It is the direct detection of chemical composition, usually through contact with chemoreceptor cells. Taste is very similar to olfaction (the sense of smell), in which the chemical composition of an organism's ambient medium is detected by chemoreceptors. In a liquid medium, taste is often used to describe this act as well.

In humans, the sense of taste is transduced by taste buds and is conveyed via three of the twelve cranial nerves. The facial nerve (VII) carries taste sensations from the anterior two thirds of the tongue, the glossopharyngeal nerve (IX) carries taste sensations from the posterior one third of the tongue while a branch of the vagus nerve (X) carries some taste sensations from the back of the oral cavity. Information from these cranial nerves is processed by the gustatory system.

As a general rule, taste is a global fuzzy assessment of the interaction of the fundamental taste systems of sweet, sour, bitter, salty, and umami. Location of the stimulus on the tongue is not important, despite the common misperception of a "taste map" of preference for different tastes in specific areas of the tongue [1]. In reality, the separate populations of taste buds sensing each of the basic tastes are distributed across the tongue.

If half of the tongue is blocked from sending information to the brain, people will report that a doubling of psychological perception has occurred for sweet, sour, salty, and bitter. Salty taste will be reported as being at the correct one half level. Salt slows down the firing frequency of nerve cells on the tongue. Salt can be used to reduce the bitterness of foods.

See also Flavor

Taste in aesthetics

Taste can also refer to one's appreciation for aesthetic quality. Paul Graham notes, "I think it's easier to see ugliness than to imagine beauty. The recipe for great work is: very exacting taste."

The modern concept of "taste" is a product of the 16th century Italian style called Mannerism, named at the time for the maniera or "manner" in which a work of art was couched. More specifically, the idea of "taste" as a quality that is independent of the style that is simply its vehicle — though the style might be designated a taste, such as "the Antique taste"— was born in the circle of Pope Julius III and first realized at the Villa Giulia built on the edge of Rome in 1551 - 1555.

To the Enlightenment, "taste" was still a universal character, which could be recognized by what pleased any cultured sensibility. With the shift in perspective that Romanticism brought, it began to be thought that, to the contrary, "Beauty is in the eye of the beholder" and could be individually interpreted, with results that might be of equivalent aesthetic value.

Taste as a metaphor for experience or knowledge

To taste can also be another way of saying one can "experience" or "know" what something is by investigating its characteristics and innate qualities through direct physical interaction, so as to make distinctions. Examples: "I've had a taste of that kind of situation and I would never willingly do it again"; "It left a bad taste in my mind, I know it wasn't a mentally healthy thing for me to do." A good synonym would be "test".

See also