Humans have about 9,000 taste buds distinguishing between sweet, sour, bitter, salty, and meaty or savory flavors. According to Cats on Broadway, cited below, "Cats have about 480 taste buds which distinguish all but sweet."
Being a sweets lover, I am glad I am not a kitty in this respect. Cats on Broadway explain that cats are the only mammals that lack taste receptors for sweetness. But while they have fewer taste buds than humans, they don't necessarily taste fewer flavors. Instead, as explained, "Their perception of taste is different. While a cat's appetite is mainly stimulated by smell, taste plays an important role, too."
While my taste buds diverge with felines regarding sweets, they align with their dislike of anything bitter, which explains why cats are notoriously challenging to medicate with pills or liquid. This shows that taste is only sometimes in the mouth of the species and their habits. Cats, like humans, can be picky eaters. Cats on Broadway also explains that "The temperature of food is also important to a cat. They tend to prefer warmer food, around 100 degrees Fahrenheit, which simulates the temperature of freshly-killed prey."
That explains why my cat turns his nose up when I serve his canned food straight from the refrigerator. He doesn't like cold offerings, except ice cream, which is very cold and very sweet. Go figure.
Although cats don't have as many taste buds as humans, they do have a special sense receptor in the roof of their mouths that we do not have. According to author Pam Johnson-Bennett, cited below, this receptor is called the Jacobson's Organ (also known as the vomeronasaland), enabling cats to taste what they smell. Johnson-Bennett says, "Using this setup, odors are inhaled to the cat's tongue, and the tongue is then used to transfer scents to the roof of the mouth where they are 'smelled by taste.’”
Cat Health, cited below, notes, "Cat noses are much more sensitive than human noses, and this also helps them decipher different flavors, such as sweet or savory."
"Essentially, the taste receptors that react to meat and the fats contained therein are what drive a cat's appetite," Cat Health further explains. So, while I think my cat loves sweets because he enjoys ice cream, Cat Health says it is "probably the fat content of the food that cats are drawn to."
Other studies cited by Cat Health reveal that "The shape of food is important to cats. Many cats show much more interest in kibbles when the shapes vary from day to day or week to week." And large pieces are preferred by the majority of cats. No crumbs for kitty, please.
Quote to remember: "When Rome burned, the emperor's cats still expected to be fed on time." - Seanan McGuire
Cats on Broadway Veterinary Hospital
"The Five Senses According to Cats: Taste"
Pam Johnson-Bennett, Author
"What is the Vomeronasal Organ?"
"Do Cats Have a Sense of Taste?"