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Understanding The 6 Tastes In Food As Taught in Ayurveda

Written by Dr Chathurika Harischandra, Resident Doctor, Plantation Villa, Sri Lanka

A key consideration when it comes to Ayurvedic diet and nutrition is taste. Ayurveda identifies six tastes and notes the need for all six tastes or shad rasa in food, which when consumed in proper quantity and time have the right effect on the body and mind. The six tastes are: Sweet, Sour, Salty, Pungent, Bitter and Astringent. According to Ayurveda, the taste of the food is not just to satisfy sense perception. Taste plays crucial role in maintaining the constitutional makeup of the body. 

See below for a summary of each taste and its impact on the body and mind. 

  • Sweet Taste

Sweet taste is the flavor of rice, milk, sugar etc. It gives energy and strengthen the body. 

  • It increases blood, muscle, fat, bone marrow and Ojas (immunity), semen and breast milk.
  • Improve vision, hair growth, complexion, strengthen the heart, affiliate body tissues, empower old, emaciated and young bodies.
  • Good for thirst, syncope, burning sensation of the body and helps to maintain pleasant sensory organs.
  • Sweet taste is associated with love, compassion, happiness, joy, sharing etc. Most of sweet taste food have calming qualities.

Over consumption may cause:

  • It can increase worm infestation, phlegm, cause cough, dyspnea, lassitude, goiter, tumor, elephantiasis, thrush and increase emotions like greed, possessiveness, attachments etc.

Food items dominant on Sweet taste:

  • Banana, dates, figs, melons are examples of sweet taste dominant fruits. 
  • Beet root, pumpkin and potatoes are sweet taste dominant vegetables. 
  • Corn, rice, wheat are examples of sweet taste dominant grain. 
  • Red lentils, mung beans, black gram are sweet taste dominant legumes. 
  • Cashew nuts, almonds, coconut are examples for sweet taste dominant nuts. 
  • Chicken and turkey are for meats. 
  • Milk, ghee and honey for animal products.

  1. Sour taste

Sour is the taste of citrus fruits. 

  • It improves appetite, digestion, stimulate the secretions of digestive juice, promotes the flow of bile flow, stimulate foods to descend through digestive tract.
  • Cleanses the channels and promote the clarity of sense organs. 
  • It is associated with positive emotions such as appreciation, understanding, discrimination, comprehension etc.

Over consumption may cause:

  • Increased acidity in the stomach and small intestine, itchiness and burning sensation in body, edema, impotency, hemorrhage from different orifices, ulcers in mouth and eyes, and belching. 
  • Emotionally it can create criticism, jealousy, rejection, hate, agitation, selfishness, hyperactivity etc.

Food items:

  • Lime, lemon, tamarind, star fruit and grapefruit are examples for sour taste dominant fruits. 
  • Tomatoes, june plums or ambarella, unripen mango, are sour taste dominant raw fruits examples.
  • Butter, cheese, yogurt, cream are dairy products examples. 
  • Pickles, vinegar and fermented foods also have sour taste as the dominant taste.
  • Indian gooseberry (amla), pomegranate and lime do not increase acidity. They can reduce heat and inflammation due to their cooling effect.

  1. Salty taste

Salty is the taste of salt. 

  • It cleanses all the channels.
  • Promote appetite, digestion and absorption.
  • Strengthen muscles, supports to moisten the body, and nourishes plasma. 
  • Maintain water-electrolyte balance. 
  • Mild laxative.
  • Bring down the intensity of all other tastes.  
  • Promotes courage, confidence, enthusiasm and interest.

Over consumption may cause:

  • Depletes semen and leads to impotency, reduce the clarity of sense organs. Emotionally it may cause irritability, greed, attachment, possessiveness, addiction and temptation.

Food items:

  • Celery and seaweed are examples for salty taste dominant vegetables. 
  • Cottage cheese and tuna for animal products.

  • Pungent taste

Pungent taste is sharp and strong. Ginger is a good example.

  • It cleanses mouth, improve the clarity of the sense organs.
  • Enhance digestive fire, digestion and absorption. 
  • Eliminates toxins.
  • Increases circulation and remove congestion. 
  • Associated with enthusiasm, excitement, curiosity, and concentration.

Over consumption may cause:

  • Depleted breast milk and semen. Gives burning sensation, fatigue, giddiness, dryness in mouth, and emaciation. It is associated with irritability, anger, aggressiveness, envy, competitiveness etc. 

Food items:

  • Chilly, garlic, leek, onion, kohlrabi, radish, raw spinach are pungent taste dominant vegetables.
  • Buckwheat and spelt are examples for grains. 
  • Pungent taste dominant spices are mustard seeds, black pepper, cardamom, ginger, coriander, cloves, and paprika etc. (most of the spices).
  • Ginger and cooked garlic do not deplete tissues, but actually help digestion. Cloves, coriander, cumin and fennel do not increase body heat though they are pungent taste dominant.

  • Bitter taste

  • Bitter taste cleanses the body by eliminating toxins and excess fat from the body. 
  • Cleanses breast milk and purify blood.
  • Promote emotions of self-awareness, introspection, improve the clarity of mind, detach from worldly desires.

Over consumption may cause:

  • Various kinds of pains in the body, distaste in the mouth and constipation. Over consumption associates with emotions such as loneliness, isolation, separation etc. 

Food items:

  • Bitter gourd, kale, broccoli, endives, spinach, gotu kola (Centella asiatica), Lunuwila (Bacopa moneri) are examples for bitter taste dominant vegetables. 
  • Coffee, cocoa, fenugreek, saffron, turmeric are also examples for bitter taste dominant foods.

  • Astringent taste

Astringent is the taste of tannins. It gives a feeling of dryness and contraction of the oral mucosa and mouth.

  • It improves absorption and helps to form stools. Astringent taste absorbs excess moisture in the body.
  • Promotes wound healing, helps to inhibit bleeding and promotes clotting. 
  • Helps to prevent from excessive discharges from all orifices (diarrhea, menorrhagia, leucorrhea and also prevent excessive sweating). 
  • Eliminate excess of fat tissues.  
  • Promotes stable, grounded, unified emotions. 

Over consumption causes:

  • Dry mouth, bloating, gases, thirsty, malaise, loss of libido, low sperm counts, palpitation, blood clotting and emotionally depression, anger, insanity etc.

Food items:

  • Apples, unripe bananas, cranberries, pomegranates are fruit examples for dominant astringent taste.
  • Green beans, cauliflower, avocado, peas, brussels sprouts and most of the raw vegetables are examples.
  • Rye grain, nutmeg, oregano, saffron are other examples.  
  • Harithaki (Terminalia chebula) is highly astringent, it supports healthy bowel movements.

According to Ayurveda, if you consume food in a proper way it gives life force, strength, nourishment, comfort, happiness and pleasant sense organs. If food consumption is improper, it is the cause of diseases of the mind and body. Among all good practices of eating foods, having a balanced diet is essential. Although many western approaches identify a balanced diet based on the ideal ratio of carbohydrates, proteins, vitamins, minerals etc., Ayurveda identifies it as a proper combination of the six tastes in a meal. 

In modern society, we have a complex relationship with foods. We mainly consider emotional satisfaction and taste perception when choosing foods, and we are unaware of the effects of different tastes on the body and mind. For example, when we get stressed or emotionally imbalanced, we try to eat something which can make us happy. Most of the times sweet taste are the choice. If you consume sweet in excess it can cause diabetes or lead to an even more lethargic mind frame. Most non-communicable diseases are caused by unhealthy food patterns and sedentary lifestyle. Therefore, use these understandings when you choose foods and enjoy a healthier and happier life.

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