Mood-Regulating Chemicals Help You Taste Sour Foods

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By April Fischione

Does your mouth water when you grab a handful of Sour Patch Kids™, or do you cringe when you taste a kiwi or a lemon? If you answered yes to either of these questions, you can thank serotonin, which gives you the ability to taste sour foods. But what exactly is serotonin?

Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that is responsible for sending chemical messages between nerve cells. While serotonin is manufactured in the brain and performs its primary functions there, it also travels throughout the body and can be found elsewhere, especially in the digestive tract. By helping to relay messages from one area of the brain to another and because of its large map, serotonin influences a range of psychological and bodily functions.

There are approximately 40 million brain cells in the human body and it is believed that most of those cells that are related to our moods, appetite, sleep, memory and learning, temperature regulation and social behavior are somehow influenced by serotonin. But if serotonin is responsible for psychological and bodily functions, how does it also allow us to taste sour foods?

Serotonin – We’ll Never Be Sour on You

When you take a bite of sour food, the acid in it triggers a response in the taste receptor cells found on your taste buds. Chemicals are then released and relay this message back to your brain. If the food tastes sour to you, and possibly even makes you cringe, you can chalk it up to the mood-regulating neurotransmitter serotonin.

This was the finding of a group of researchers whose study was published in the Journal of Neuroscience. The group performed an experiment using a green-glowing protein that fit into serotonin receptors to test where the glowing proteins congregated. The researchers discovered that high concentrations of these glowing proteins were found on the tongue, pointing indisputably to serotonin as the neurotransmitter whose signals to the brain tell us that a particular food tastes sour.

It’s strange to think that something so small can be responsible for so much, but serotonin plays a huge role in the human body and for multiple reasons we wouldn’t be able to live without it.


Identify which parts of the tongue are responsible for tasting sweet, salty, sour and bitter foods.

How does serotonin play a role in your everyday life?


  • Serotonin
  • Neurotransmitter
  • Psychological

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