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Internet users are lighting up TikTok and Twitter with a simple, odd question: Do testicles have taste buds? And if they do, can we use them to taste foods like soy sauce and orange juice?
The fad seems to have erupted as a late reaction to a serious work of molecular biology. In 2013 a report was published entitled, "Taste perception: From the tongue to the testis."
In this article researchers show that thanks to two protein receptors called T1R and T2R certain tastes -- namely sour, bitter, and umami, the savory flavor found in soy sauce -- can be recognized in cells throughout the body. These special taste receptors have been discovered in the respiratory system, bladder, pancreas, brain, liver, and, yes, the testes too.
But whether or not these taste receptors create sensations that can be sensed in the mouth, like a typical taste, is another question. Indeed, having tested the theory, many Internet users are disputing that any taste sensation occurs.
Taste receptors are not necessarily taste buds, and whether or not they produce recognizable taste sensations like the taste buds in your mouth is not established in the article.
Taste buds are the tiny, barrel-shaped endings of the gustatory nerve, according to MedicineNet author and editor William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR. They are crucial to what we normally think of as our sense of taste. But they are far from alone. Smell and other factors play important roles in taste as well.
"Smell contributes to the sense of taste, as does another chemosensory mechanism, called the common chemical sense," Dr. Shiel said. "In this system, thousands of nerve endings -- especially on the moist surfaces of the eyes, nose, mouth, and throat -- give rise to sensations such as the sting of ammonia, the coolness of menthol, and the irritation of chili peppers."
In the broad sense, our body's "taste receptors" transmit vital chemical messages about their environment. But much of what we normally think of as "taste" is actually smell, Dr. Shiel said.
"Flavors are recognized mainly through the sense of smell," he said. "If a person holds his or her nose while eating chocolate, for example, the person will have trouble identifying the chocolate flavor—even though he or she can distinguish the food's sweetness or bitterness. That is because the familiar flavor of chocolate is sensed largely by odor."
This may explain the disappointment of many users reporting their own experiences. A better question could be: Do testicles sense smells?