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The Six Tastes in Ayurveda

The following is a brief introduction to the Six Tastes of Ayurveda. The tastes are a lengthy study in themselves. For now, I’ll introduce them and explain how you can use them on a daily basis to bring balance to your health and in doing so, help alleviate cravings. Ayurveda recommends we have each of the six tastes at every meal. We can use foods or spice to ensure we meet these recommendations. The following post on The Six Tastes and the Doshas teaches which spices to use for each Dosha. This post provides a few examples of which foods are of each of the Six Tastes.

According to Ayurveda, it is incredibly important to taste our foods. Rasa is the Sanskrit word for taste, and has a number of potent meanings, among them: experience, enthusiasm, juice, and essence. These diverse meanings only hint at the significance of taste within the Ayurvedic tradition. Rasa is the essence of life and affects every aspect of our being—from structure and physiology, straight through to our overall state of mind and consciousness.

Evolution & Taste Buds

Back in the day, our taste buds helped the peoples survive in the wild. These days, we aren’t educated about taste buds and how they work in the body. Processed foods like bread, cheese, and corn syrup bypass and trick our taste buds into eating food that is unhealthy.

Ayurveda identifies the six tastes according to our physical experience. These are sweet, sour, salty, pungent, bitter, and astringent. Western medicine defines taste according to the presence of taste buds and have identified taste buds for sweet, sour, salty, bitter, and umami.

Some may go so far as saying that taste is the mother of creation because we are what we eat, and we eat what we crave. As our tastes change, our food choices change.

Sweet Taste in Ayurveda

Vata pacifying -Pitta pacifying - Kapha aggravating

Examples: Bananas, beets, carrots (cooked), mung beans

Sweet refers to anything that builds tissue, including macronutrients such as carbohydrates, proteins and fats.

Sweet taste includes nourishing foods like fats, proteins and carbohydrates. Sweet taste doesn't necessarily mean sugary, but also includes anything that tastes nourishing (i.e. builds muscle or fat tissue).

Sour Taste in Ayurveda

Vata pacifying - Pitta aggravating - Kapha aggravating

Examples: Tomato, Lemon, Cheese

Sour refers to anything fermented or acidic.

When something spoils or goes rotten it becomes sour. Sour taste in Ayurveda generally refers to fermented foods or acidic foods. Sour foods include yogurt, wine, beer, miso, and pickles. Acidic fruits like citrus and subacidic fruits like peaches are also considered sour, but where ferments heat the blood, sour fruits cool the blood.

Salty Taste in Ayurveda

Vata pacifying - Pitta aggravating - Kapha aggravating

Examples: Celery, Salt, Seaweed

Salty refers to anything with salt, or high mineral content.

Salt brings out the flavor in food and brings enthusiasm for life. It stimulates secretions, thus improving digestion. Salt is a laxative, breaking up all hard masses in the digestive tract. Salt in excess obliterates all other tastes and causes thirst.

Pungent Taste in Ayurveda

Vata pacifying - Pitta aggravating - Kapha pacifying

Examples: Onion, Ginger, Chili

Pungency is characterized by irritation, or sharp, spicy foods that irritate the mouth such as black pepper.

Pungent taste is what makes foods hot. Pungent spices stimulate by irritating the lining of the digestive tract and other membranes. Made of fire element, pungent taste is sharp and concentrated, fast acting and intense, spreading quickly to all tissues.

Bitter Taste in Ayurveda

Vata aggravating - Pitta pacifying - Kapha pacifying

Examples: Turmeric, Dandelion, Coffee

Bitter is disagreeable and stimulates rejection, and a strong taste often associated with black coffee, dark chocolate, and most salad greens.

Bitters & Digestion

Ayurveda suggests that a healthy gut will eliminate food six hours after eating it. In some cultures, bitters are used to stimulate digestion and some describe a higher consumption of bitters to optimize a digestion period of six hours from eating to elimination. This is not the case in a society of refined flours and sugars.

Some edible bitters have a beneficial, stimulating effect on your body. Bitters stimulate peristalsis, the release of bile in the liver and gall bladder, clearing the blood of heat and Pitta.

Astringent Taste in Ayurveda

Vata aggravating - Pitta pacifying - Kapha pacifying

Examples: Pomegranate, Chickpea, Parsley

Astringency is characterized by constriction, drawing together, or drying.

Astringent foods make the mouth feel rough or dry. Astringent taste cleanses the mouth but causes difficulty swallowing. Leafy greens, green bananas, and cranberries are astringent. Astringent taste makes an apple crunchy. It makes lentils and peeled potatoes stick to each other.

Externally, astringent herbs are used to stop bleeding and bring perforated tissues together. Internally, astringent herbs are drying, and are very useful for diarrhea or excess sweating.

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