Six Tastes of Ayurveda
Rasa- Knowledge of Taste
Six Tastes in Ayurveda for Greater Health
Food is always the first topic of interest when it comes to Ayurvedic practices. Everyone wants to know WHAT to eat. While we could give you a long list of best foods for your constitution or season, it helps more if you understand the WHY behind it all.
Remember when we discussed how everything in Nature is made of 10 Pairs of Opposites (like heavy, light, hot, cold, dry, oily, etc.); when these qualities come together in food it creates an effect on the body as a whole. An example of this is food that is building or foods that are reducing, or cleansing. One of the best ways to study this information and see what may be the best foods for you is through the understanding of taste (rasa).
There are six tastes recognized in Ayurveda which are sweet, sour, salty, pungent, bitter, and astringent.
You could probably guess that the sweet taste is heavy; but did you know that when taken properly it is rejuvenating, tissue and strength building, supports the nervous and reproductive system while building immunity? Or that the sour taste can stimulate appetite and ignite digestive fire but in excess can deplete tissues, create skin issues and reduce reproductive capacity? The influence of rasa has a powerful effect upon our system beyond just the taste!
The Six Tastes
The sweet taste is the most dominant taste in the universe! Not only does it include sugar itself and sweet treats but more importantly it is commonly found in grains, dairy, fruits and vegetables.
Functions of the sweet taste include an overall wholesome effect on the body, giving us strength and longevity. It improves complexion, promotes healthy skin and hair, produces a sweet voice and is nutritive to all bodily tissues; offering us energy, vigor and vitality. In excess it can aggravate Kapha dosha creating colds, congestion, loss of appetite, laziness and obesity.
One of the most important prerequisites to consuming the sweet taste is gauged by the digestive fire (agni). It’s important the quality of agni is functioning higher than the heaviness of the food we eat. Sweet foods are the heaviest of all the tastes so having strong digestion is necessary for the ability of the body to use the nutritive properties of sweetness to build strength and support holistically without creating imbalance.
The sour taste impacts the digestive system by stimulating salivary secretions, increasing digestive fire, stimulating the metabolism and refreshing the body and mind. It increases Pitta and Kapha dosha and is most beneficial for Vata and the Autumn or Winter season. Those with skin irritations or issues will find that the sour taste can increase imbalance and should avoid it when possible. Overuse can lead to acidity, burning sensations and excessive thirst; however in moderation the sour rasa makes things tasty! You may find a small squeeze of lemon or lime over a meal stimulates hunger and makes food more desirable.
Examples of sour include citrus fruits, raw mango, vinegars and fermented foods.
One of the major impacts of salt in the body is it’s ability to dilate the channels and promote movement. Ever noticed how salty foods may make you have to eliminate faster. Or how if you swallowed salt water in the ocean you may vomit? Excess salt stimulates Vayu (movement of Vata) which can result in gentle or dramatic experiences based on the quantity of consumption.
Salt is most balancing to Vata dosha and in excess can aggravate Pitta due to the heating and sharp qualities. Himalayan pink rock salt is a unique exception. Regular sea salt is heating in nature but pink salt is cooling making it suitable for all dosha.
Salts can be found in sea salt, rock salt, celery, seaweed, soy sauce and tamari.
Warm spicy food increases the digestive fire but can heat the body up and aggravate Pitta dosha. Best suited for Vata and Kapha, however in large amounts can dry Vata dosha out and create sensitivity, and therefore should be consumed with thoughtful moderation.
Best used for high Kapha conditions like sluggish digestion, lethargy, fatigue and weight loss. Overuse can deplete tissues, reduce fertility and create burning sensations throughout the body.
Examples include black pepper, long pepper, ginger and chili peppers.
One of the less desired tastes but important to include in your diet. Bitter helps purify the body and mind and helps release excess heat from the system. It is cooling and drying in nature making it aggravating to Vata dosha but supportive to Pitta and Kapha; especially in late Spring and early Summer when you see the bitter tasting herbs and vegetables in abundance.
Bitter is a palate cleanser, helps cleanse the throat and mouth and in small amounts helps the clarity of taste to food. It is the best taste to include in mouth powders and mouth washes. Excessive use of the bitter taste should be avoided for those trying to conceive or build body mass due to its tissue reducing quality. Small amounts can be supportive; however mostly through food choices like fresh vegetables, bitter gourd, greens and some grains or legumes.
The astringent taste is the least used of all tastes. It creates a choking or dry feeling in the mouth and has an overall similar effect within the body creating constriction. This is why it is not recommended for use if you are prone to constipation. Astringent is best for Kapha and Pitta dosha and should be reduced or avoided by Vata dosha.
Used for weight loss or high cholesterol it has a drying or scraping action on the channels and tissues of the body.
Examples include turmeric, neem, green banana and most barks of trees.
How the Six Tastes Affect Dosha
Relieved by Sweet, Sour and Salty tastes
Aggravated by Pungent, Bitter and Astringent tastes
Relieved by Sweet, Bitter and Astringent tastes
Aggravated by Pungent, Sour and Salty tastes
Relieved by Pungent, Bitter and Astringent tastes
Aggravated by Sweet, Sour and Salty tastes
Tastes for the Season
Each season offers a unique opportunity for us to tune into the cues of Mother Nature reflecting the macrocosm within our individual experience. Seek our your local farmers! Start a garden! Nature provides insight to what you need to eat each season for sustainable health and balance within the ever -hanging external world. Have you ever noticed how in the Spring wild foods and vegetables are predominantly bitter and pungent like radish (pungent), turnip (pungent), chives (pungent), ramps (pungent), asparagus ( bitter), fiddleheads (bitter) and dandelions (bitter). Or in the Caribbean late Spring and early Summer mark sweet fruit season with mango, avocado, sour sop and papaya in abundance supporting the sweet and juicy qualities needed to support our systems as the weather warms. Grocery store experiences block us from reading what Nature is subtly sharing with us, but your local farmers know best! Keep an eye out for these tastes to dominate your diet during the seasons and try some of our favorite recipes.
Kapha reducing diet focusing on the bitter, pungent and astringent tastes along with easy to digest meals that are well-spiced.
Pitta reducing diet focusing on sweet, bitter and astringent tastes that are fresh and light, especially during extra warm days when you may feel squeezed from the heat.
Vata reducing diet focusing on sweet, salty and sour tastes that are warm, grounding, oily and heavier than during the summer time. Keeping the digestive fire stimulated is important this season as you prepare for winter.
Best recipes for Autumn include Creamy Garlic Beets and Greens, Green Curry Boiled Breadfruit, Kitchari, Savory Tomato Chutney, Wild Rice Stuffed Squash, Chickpea Flour Pancakes Takra and Ayurveda Aide
Vata reducing diet focusing on sweet, salty and sour tastes with an emphasis on grounding heavier foods that support strength and tissue building. As late Winter approaches be mindful of the digestive fire, making sure the food isn’t heavier than what you are capable of processing. If you start to feel heavy overall you may want to lighten the meal or add some spice. This is an ideal time to contact us to prepare for a Spring Cleanse.
Best recipes for Winter include Sorrel Tea, Green Curry Boiled Breadfruit, Tilgul, Ojas Balls,Peanut Travel Chutney, Fenugreek Roti, Spiced Pumpkin Barley, Curried Sweet Potato Soup and the Agni Spice Mix.
For specifics on how to use these qualities for each season along with a formal presentation on seasonal support jump over to our Seasonal Regimen (Rutacharya) Programs offered 4 times a year. We also have detailed information on why seasonal care is so important on the BLOG.
How to use taste for desirable effects
Due to the natural accumulation of Kapha dosha in the Spring season it is the best time to cleanse the body of excess mucus and accumulated heaviness that may be present from the Winter. If digestive health has not been nurtured during the Winter months you may notice Springtime brings on colds, allergies, heaviness and feelings of density. There are a few ways to lighten this load. You could schedule a Home Cleanse, visit us for Pancha Karma or work with Seasonal Practices. Now is a great time to begin working with how you are consuming your meals to optimize overall health. Focusing on how well you are digesting your foods is always a good place to start.
Six Taste Test Game
An Activity for the Whole Family
One of our favorite ways to train ourselves to decipher the six tastes with greater awareness and subtlety is through the Six Taste Test Game. Here is how you play.
- You need at least 2 players but can have as many as you like
- Gather a blind fold and one example of each of the six tastes. This could be a date (sweet), lemon (sour), salty seaweed (salty), dried chili pepper flakes (pungent), dandelion leaves (bitter) and an unripe green banana (astringent). Arrange them on a plate without showing the other participant.
- Blindfold your partner and tell them the six tastes (sweet, sour, salty, pungent, bitter, astringent)
- Let them try each one of the examples separately having them call out the taste. Be sure to have some lemon water, or takra on hand to cleanse their palate.
Children love this game and you can help them set it up for you as well. Students of Ayurveda can begin creating test plates for each other with greater subtlety so you can begin to discern the underlying taste of simple foods. Share your experience with our Facebook Group! We’d love to hear about your experience with this exercise!