The impact of the tongue’s taste zones on smoking a pipe or cigar

Since I have some time on my hands, and like my literary hero, Sherlock Holmes, I abhor mental stagnation, I tend to think of concepts related to smoking, and after re-reading a piece of literature, something struck me- since our tongues have “zones” for taste sensations, what direct impact does this have on the enjoyment of smoking a pipe or cigar?

Immediately upon having this thought, another struck me- “Idiot! Now you’re not going to let this go until you do some research.” So the journey began.

To start with, take a look at the taste bud “map” –

The impact of the tongue's taste zones on smoking a pipe or cigarIf you learned about the areas of the tongue in school or otherwise, you may notice a difference in this updated version. It was previously believed that the center of the tongue wasn’t much of sensory area, but more recent research has discovered that it’s responsible for the tastes that fall into the realm of “savory” or umami. This would be the part of the tongue responsible for tasting something like, let’s say, bacon (…mmm, bacon).

This is also why people tend to notice the flavor of different pipe tobaccos or cigars in varying parts of the mouth. Straight Virginias, for example, tend to be noticed more prominently on the tip of the tongue, but also on the sides, as the acidity of a yellow Virginia will be detected as a bit of sourness.

Davidoff has used this information for a number of years in the form of a pleasant hour-long mini-seminar that they present at cigar shops across the U.S. They pass around some small fumas made of one particular leaf, and small sizes of blends, while showing the area of the tongue that different leaves tend to trigger. By doing this, they can blend leaves together to create a “whole-mouth feel” by making sure that there are elements of all the taste zones being affected by the combination.

My little study isn’t meant to help me develop new pipe tobaccos, as I don’t look at my blends with the same kind of approach as one might with a cigar. There are actually times that I will target a certain area of the palate- sweet, spicy,etc., rather than trying to blanket the entire tongue. No, my curiosity has drawn me in another direction, but I still have a little more work to do before I roll out my thoughts.

The problem is with the methodology of the study, as I get looks of confusion when I have approached people with a scientific background for assistance. They apparently assume that my interest in doing research on pipe tobacco and cigars is to prove how bad they are for your health. When I inform them that I’m doing a little study about flavor and sensation, they stare at me as if I were wearing a purple tutu and had a beehive on my head. I guess they believe that any form of tobacco use is a compulsion, not a choice and that the taste isn’t a consideration. Since it’s socially unacceptable to hit people with a cast iron skillet, I just sigh and move on. As a result, I’ve had to develop my own (rather unscientific) method, but the work is more than halfway complete.

When I finish, my findings will be on PipesMagazine.com, in either April or May, and although I think that my idea is unique in dealing with tobacco products, I’m sure that there are other studies that deal with similar concepts, so I’m trying to track down some information.

I don’t want to be too cryptic here, but until I have the data all sorted out, I don’t want to disclose too many details, but the results should be interesting, at the very least, and may change the way some people may choose to enjoy the hobby. In the meantime, relax and enjoy.

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About Russ

Russ Ouellette is the blender/creator of the Hearth & Home series of tobaccos for www.pipesandcigars.com in Bethlehem, PA. He has been a pipe smoker and blender for over 30 years, and enjoys feedback from the pipe smoking public. You can reach Russ at russo@pipesandcigars.com or by calling 1-800-494-9144.