What Is the Gustatory Cortex?

Jennifer Long

The gustatory cortex is the area of the brain that controls the sense of taste. It is made of two parts: the frontal operculum and the anterior insula. As part of the gustatory system, the cortex has a network of paths and receptors that process taste information, including the type of taste and intensity. Receptors do not process all of the tastes, however, and there are different receptors to handle each type of taste.

Taste receptors are present on the tongue, soft palate, pharynx and upper esophagus.
Taste receptors are present on the tongue, soft palate, pharynx and upper esophagus.

A human body has different areas to process sensory information, and the gustatory cortex is the area that handles tastes. It is the brain structure that relays information about the type of taste in addition to information about a taste's intensity. The information that is gathered is processed by the cortex and sent to other areas of the brain.

The gustatory cortex interprets the type of taste as well as its intensity.
The gustatory cortex interprets the type of taste as well as its intensity.

Within the gustatory system, there are many receptors. These receptors are responsible for receiving information and are categorized into groups based on which tastes they detect. For example, sweet tastes are detected by one group of receptors. The receptors then transmit the information down pathways to the gustatory cortex for processing. From the gustatory area, the sensory information is processed by the brain and relayed through the rest of the body.

The taste buds on the tongue begin the taste process.
The taste buds on the tongue begin the taste process.

Taste receptors are located in the mouth, particularly on the tongue and soft palate, pharynx, and upper esophagus. These receptors are activated by nerves. Taste buds on the tongue are the beginning of the taste process, and each taste bud can have as many as 100 little receptors. The taste buds transmit taste information to a facial nerve called the chorda tympani and a cranial nerve called the glossopharyngeal nerve, and these two nerves transmit information that is gathered by the taste receptors to the brain.

Taste receptors are located in the mouth, particularly on the tongue, soft palate and pharynx.
Taste receptors are located in the mouth, particularly on the tongue, soft palate and pharynx.

Distinguishing between different types of tastes is an important aspect of life. Certain tastes are associated with things that can be harmful to the body, while other types of tastes are associated with things that are pleasant or helpful to the body. The gustatory cortex can distinguish between bitter-tasting poisons and sweet-tasting carbohydrates. It also helps distinguish sour and salt tastes that balance acids or the savory tastes that are associated with foods rich in protein.

The front two-thirds of the tongue provides information about taste.
The front two-thirds of the tongue provides information about taste.

Although the gustatory cortex functions within the realm of taste, it also works with other sensory areas. The olfactory system, for example, controls the sense of smell. As foods are tasted, they are also smelled. In some cases, a person’s ability to smell can affect the intensity of tastes.

Young children typically find sweet substances palatable.
Young children typically find sweet substances palatable.

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