According to Ayurveda, there are six tastes that are found in all food and medicinal substances. These tastes are sweet, sour, salty, pungent, bitter, and astringent. Ayurveda uses the knowledge of the tastes to determine the medicinal action that a given substance will have within the body and how it might affect its functioning.
By understanding the six tastes, and their related elemental make up we dive deeper into the art of creating meals that support us further and we find ourselves beginning to avoid those which will imbalance us. With deeper awareness, this eventually becomes an intuitive process and we will find ourselves gravitating towards the tastes that support us without much effort at all.
Ayurveda is not a fundamentalist practice with hard and fast rules. It is truly an art of discovery and further refinement where necessary, but also leaves enough room for us to bend the rules at times and to be forgiving of ourselves. Our deepening relationship with the tastes sheds light on to our varied strengths and weakness and how to work with them intelligently. Ayurveda cautions us to not become to rigid and firm in our ideas and actions as this causes its own set of imbalances.
That being said, each of the tastes has a specific therapeutic role in the way our body responds to the food and herbs we ingest. As mentioned before, everything in the universe is composed of the five elements and the six tastes are no different. Each taste however is primarily comprised of two elements as shown in the graph below and will have predictable effects on the doshas when taken in excess or if deficient amounts are found in the diet. Ideally we should find all six tastes in each meal we eat or at least throughout each day, keeping in mind our doshic constitution and current season as well.
|Taste||Element||Effect on Dosha||Overall positive effects on body/mind|
|Sweet (Madhura)||Earth & Water||(+) V&P, (-) K||strength, moistening, compassion, joy|
|Bitter (Tikta)||Air & Ether||(+) P&K, (-) V||cold, reducing, detox, introspection|
|Astringent (Kashaya)||Air & Earth||(+) P&K, (-) V||cool, anti inflam., toning, grounding|
|Sour (Amla)||Earth & Fire||(+) V, (-) P&K||Heating, tissue building, discrimination|
|Salty (Lavana)||Water & Fire||(+) V, (-) P&K||warming, downward moving, courage|
|Pungent (Katu)||Fire & Air||(+) K, (-) P&V||Hot, circulation, enthusiasm, clarity|
Examples of the tastes in food and spices:
Sweet flavor is the most nurturing, nutritive, and tonifying of the flavors. It is also the flavor we tend to get too much of. When eaten in proper amounts and in healthy forms, it is calming and enhances awareness.
- banana, date, figs, rice, carrot, cucumber, sweet potato, almonds, cashew, coconut, ghee, beef, milk, cardamom, cinnamon, mint, vanilla.
Sour is also a well known flavor in our diet. Citrus fruits are a particularly clear example of this. Sour aids in building our appetite and assists the digestive process. It also tends to “move” stagnation in the body in proper amounts and aids in the release of bile and assists the proper functioning of the liver.
- Grapefruit, lemon, lime, tomato, sourdough, certain cheeses, sour cream, yogurt, alcohol, and vinegar.
Another commonly found flavor that often gets used in excess. The positive benefits of this flavor however are that it aids in digestion and stimulation of the appetite. It increases the enjoyment and pleasure of a meal and brings out the flavor of other foods. It moderately supports growth and stabilization in the body and also assists in the elimination of masses in the body.
- Various salts, saltwater fish, seaweed, soy sauce.
Interestingly, there are now taste receptors for the pungent flavor, its effect is actually experienced through pain receptors on the tongue that adds a pleasant dimension to the other traditional tastes. Pungent flavor awakens the senses and brings clarity to the mind as well as enhancing other flavors. It also improves digestion and assimilation of food in proper amounts. Its heating effect aids in eliminating excess Kapha or Ama (toxins) from the body. It is effective at clearing stagnation and mucus blockage from the various tissues and increases circulation in general.
- Chilies, ginger, onion, garlic, mustard greens, radishes, most spices have a pungent quality as they which tend to be heating.
Often the least used flavor in the typical western diet because of its sometimes intense flavor, bitter has immense therapeutic effects that shouldn’t be ignored. Bitter works to eliminate toxins, bacteria, and viruses from the body and is also cooling and reduces issues of inflammation particularly of the skin. It is also noted for its ability to stimulate the appetite and aid in digestion. A commonly known use is “bitters” given in cases of illness and immune system building purposes in western herbalism.
- Bitter melon, burdock root, leafy greens, artichokes, coffee, dark chocolate, cumin, fennel, turmeric.
The astringent taste helps to control bleeding and aids in cooling the body and toning the tissue, especially in dryness and symptoms of deficiency. It is less beneficial in those with excess of water and fluids in the body and whose temperature runs more on the cool side.
- apples, cranberries, pomegranate, brussels sprouts, broccoli, avocado, cabbage, rye, chicken ( white meat), basil, fennel, rosemary, turmeric.