Nutrition and taste play a foundational role in the Ayurvedic lifestyle. According to the time-honored Science of Life, what you eat effects not only every organ and cell in your body but your mental and emotional states as well. In accordance with your 'dosha' or basic constitution, Ayurveda prescribes foods and recipes which promote mind-body balance, prevent illness, and boost general well-being.
Ayurveda Six Flavors (Rasas)
Ayurveda assigns particular significance to rasa - taste or flavor - and to the following six tastes specifically:
- Sweet (Madhura)
- Pungent (Katu)
- Astringent (Kashaya)
- Bitter (Tikta)
- Salty (Lavana)
- Sour (Amla)
Understanding the Ayurvedic Concept of Taste
In Ayurveda, far greater importance is assigned to rasa than its Western conceptualization. The word rasa itself is comprised of two parts:
- Ra: To taste, perceive, feel, desire, love, or relish
- Sa: The best part of something or 'to encompass'
Together, they expand the meaning of flavor, giving taste a richness and texture which conveys enthusiasm and enhanced experience. In fact, rasa is thought to embody the essence of life. By better understanding the Ayurvedic six tastes, you can cultivate an appreciation for them and learn to use them as health-promoting aids that balance your doshas and add spice to everyday experiences.
Your Dosha (Ayurvedic Body Type)
To savor what the six tastes have to offer, begin by determining your Ayurvedic body type: Vata, Pitta, or Kapha. Simply take the online Dosha Quiz. After answering some basic questions about your physical traits, personality characteristics, and lifestyle, you will be privy to a personalized guide on how to live a healthier and happier lifestyle the Ayurvedic way.
Balancing Your Dosha by Taste
In the ideal Ayurveda diet, an appropriate quantity of each of the six tastes is consumed daily. The goal is to learn which combinations of flavors optimally balance your dosha and which excesses can cause imbalances. Since the Ayurvedic path is highly personalized, the specific 'taste prescription' will vary per individual and in accordance with factors such as age, body type, the environment, and the four seasons.
Using Taste to Correct Dosha Imbalances
To help balance your mind-body via taste, keep in mind the following rules of thumb:
- Reduce excess Vata dosha with sour and salty tastes
- Reduce excess Pitta dosha with astringent and bitter tastes
- Reduce excess Kapha dosha with bitter, astringent, and pungent tastes
Ayurveda Sweet Taste
In a balanced state, sweet-tasting foods are grounding, satisfying, and make you feel loved. Sweet-flavored foods include baked goods, candies, fruits, and ice cream -- but also whole grains and sweet vegetables. The sweet taste is heavy and moist and has a cooling effect on the body. This makes sweet foods ideal for reducing heat and for calming Vata and Pitta doshas, however Kapha doshas should moderate their intake of this rasa.
Additional benefits of the sweet taste include:
- Lowers inflammation
- Reduces gastritis
- Enhances memory
- Increases breast-milk production during pregnancy
Bonus Ayurveda Tip: If you struggle with overweight issues or diabetes, use honey to satisfy your sweet tooth, as it is considered astringent in flavor.
Ayurveda Pungent Taste
The pungent taste is hot and spicy! Examples of pungent-tasting foods include chili peppers, black pepper, onions, garlic, mustard seed, cayenne, and ginger. In balance, pungent-tasting foods are stimulating, increase clarity, stimulate digestion and circulation, and help clear sinuses. Pungent rasas warm the naturally cool quality of Vata dosha. Pungent tastes also benefit Kapha dosha by drying up its naturally moist and stagnant nature. However excess pungent tastes may aggravate Pitta dosha, increasing the potential for intense emotional outbursts or anger.
Additional benefits of the pungent flavor include:
- Increases enzyme activity
- Helps dry up mucus
- Helps eliminate obstructions in the body
- Can be used as a decongestant to relieve colds and asthma
Bonus Ayurveda Tip: If you struggle with slow digestion, try Trikatu, a popular remedy which combines three pungent tastes: ginger, black pepper, and long pepper.
Ayurveda Astringent Taste
Astringent rasa is very dry and helps cool the body and calm emotionally heightened states. It also has a toning and purifying effect. Examples of astringent-tasting foods include crabapples, cranberries, pomegranate, unripe bananas, barely, chickpeas, and alfalfa sprouts. The dryness of the astringent taste makes it ideal for reducing excess moisture and heaviness in Kapha doshas and for drying up excess Pitta heat. Vata doshas, however, should minimize their intake of astringent foods as the dryness can cause digestion complications.
Bonus Ayurveda Tip: Excess astringent rasa can lead to constipation and muscle stiffness.
Ayurveda Salty Taste
While salt-free diets are sometimes recommended, Ayurveda experts believe that a moderate amount of salt not only enhances flavor but aids digestion. Salt heightens the taste of all foods. It also produces enzyme-rich salivation which helps break down what you eat and clear obstructions in the body.
Given its moist, heavy, and slightly warm nature, salt is beneficial for Vata dosha. However, in excess it can cause thirst and water retention and is not recommended for Kapha dosha.
Examples of foods naturally containing salt include:
- Sea fish
Bonus Ayurveda Tip: Rock salt is a particular favorite of Ayurveda experts. Also known as saindhava lavana, it is rich in magnesium and iron, pacifies all three doshas, and causes less water retention than regular salt.
Mined in India, rock salt is also used as an aphrodisiac and heart tonic. Some healers consider it a Sattvic food and use it to help cultivate the spirit. Today, it is a popular ingredient in many recipes and appears as a staple in an increasing number of household kitchens.
Ayurveda Bitter Taste
The most cooling of all six Ayurveda tastes, bitter flavors help balance the digestive system, detoxify the body, dry up excess mucus/secretions, break down fat, and purify the blood. Examples of bitter-tasting foods include dark leafy green vegetables (i.e. kale), rhubarb, coffee, chard, and Turmeric, which also contains important antioxidant properties.
The cooling effect of the bitter taste benefits fiery Pitta dosha and helps lighten and dry Kapha dosha. However Vata doshas, who by nature possess similar properties (dry, light, cool) should moderate their consumption of bitter foods.
Bonus Ayurveda Tip: Bitter foods contain alkaloids and glycosides, making them useful in treating diabetes, fever, jaundice, certain skin conditions, and digestive disorders.
Ayurveda Sour Taste
Sour tastes, which make you salivate immediately, have multiple benefits. They boost digestion, increase mental clarity, induce sweating which helps detoxify the body, and actually stimulate appetite. The sour taste warms and grounds Vata dosha, however may aggravate Kapha and Pitta doshas due to its warm, moist, and heavy nature. However, an excess of sour rasa can lead to skin rashes, jaundice, inflammation, gastritis, and/or muscle weakness. Examples of sour-tasting foods include: lemons, buttermilk, yogurt, pickles, Hawthorn berries, plums.
Bonus Ayurveda Tip: Before they ripen, most fruits are considered sour. This includes gooseberries (rich in ascorbic acid), mangoes, whose flavor is sweet and sour, acidic and sour Tamarind, and Sorrel, the leafy green vegetable used in soups, stews, and salads to add a zesty lemon taste (Note: Use in moderation!)
Experience the Ayurvedic Six Tastes
If you want to add flavor to your life and enrich your daily experiences, learn all about the six Ayurvedic tastes and how they can spice up your current diet, relationships, and lifestyle. Including each of the Ayurveda rasas every day will enrich your palette in every way!
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