According to Ayurveda, it is incredibly important to taste our foods, our herbs – our lives. Rasa, the Sanskrit word for taste, has a number of potent meanings, among them: experience, enthusiasm, juice, plasma (as in rasa dhatu), and essence. These diverse meanings only hint at the significance of taste within the Ayurveda tradition. Rasa is, in a very real way, the essence of life and quite literally affects every aspect of our being – from structure and physiology, straight through to our overall state of mind and consciousness.
One of the foundation teachings of the Ayurveda tradition is that everything in the universe is composed of five elements – earth, water, fire, air, and ether (space). The tastes are no different; each of them contains all five elements. That said, each taste is predominantly composed of two elements.
Nature’s evolutionary, self-regulating, nourishing, harmonizing intelligence is conveyed to us through her foods. Each flavor of nature’s bounty expresses a different ray of this intelligence.
Sweet gives us comfort, strength, fortitude.
The sweet taste is comprised of water and earth, and is good for balancing Vata and Pitta. Of the six tastes, sweet is known to be the most grounding and nourishing. When eaten in moderation, it promotes longevity, strength, and healthy bodily fluids and tissues.
If you’re trying to gain weight, sweet is the taste to emphasize. Its heavy, oily, and moist attributes slow digestion.
Examples of sweet foods are wheat, rice, dairy, cereals, dates, pumpkins, maple syrup, and licorice root.
Salty gives protection, lubrication, stability, and helps us “taste” life.The salty taste consists of earth and fire. It’s best for Vata because of its grounding and hydrating nature. Its heat may aggravate Pitta and Kapha. It also adds taste to foods, stimulates digestion, helps electrolyte balance, cleanses tissues, and increases absorption of minerals. However, too much salt can have a negative impact on the blood and skin.
Examples of salty foods are sea vegetables, sea salt, tamari, black olives, Himalayan salt, rock salt, and processed foods that contain salt, although processed foods are not an ideal or recommended source of salt.
Sour gives courage, clarity and the power of digestion.
The sour taste consists of water and fire. It decreases Vata, increases Pitta and Kapha. It stimulates appetite and saliva production, and is balancing in its light, heating, and oily properties. The sour taste awakens the thoughts and emotions, and can improve appetite, digestion, and , elimination. It needs to be eaten in moderation because if you eat it in excess, it can quickly lead to aggression in the body.
Examples of some sour foods are lemon, vinegar, pickled and fermented foods, tamarind, and wine.
Pungent gives enthusiasm, adds spice to life and increases metabolism, helping us convert elements and experiences into things useful, beneficial.Fire and air make up the pungent taste, and increases Vata and Pitta, decreases Kapha. Pungent food is the hottest of all the rasas, and therefore stimulates digestion, improves appetite, clears sinuses, stimulates blood circulation, and heightens the senses. Pungent food may help you think quickly and clearly, and understand complicated matters more easily. Too much pungent food, however, can make you overly critical. Pungent foods will aggravate Pitta quickly and balance Kapha. Vata handles pungent tastes best when they are combined with sour, sweet, or salty foods.
Some examples of pungent foods: hot peppers, ginger, onions, garlic, mustard, and hot spices.
Astringent helps us pull it together, focus, extract the essential from food and the essence from life.The astringent taste is made up of air and earth, it increases Vata, decreases Pitta and Kapha. It’s cool, dry, and firm. Many beans and legumes are astringent and can cause gas, which is why it’s a taste Vata should eat in moderation. Pitta benefits most from astringent taste’s coolness, and its dry, light attributes balance Kapha. Like bitter food, astringent food will help mentally purify and strengthen you.
Some examples of astringent foods: Unripe bananas, green grapes, pomegranates, cranberries, green beans, alfalfa sprouts, and okra are all astringent foods.
Bitter taste consists of air and space. It increases Vata, decreases Pitta and Kapha. It’s considered the coolest and lightest of all the tastes. Because of its cool qualities, it’s highly detoxifying and can help remove waste products from the body. Bitter foods also help mental purification by freeing you from passions and sultry emotions. It’s best for Pitta, good for Kapha, and least beneficial for Vata.
Finally, Bitter gives expansion… but only by helping us let go, release, detoxify, purify.
Among bitter foods are raw green vegetables, turmeric, and green, black and most herbal teas.
When we include all six tastes in a natural, whole food meal, the body gets fully nourished. It feels satisfied, so cravings diminish. Most importantly, you build healthy tissue, increase energy, strengthen the immune system, feel light and comfortable in your body, and more clear and concentrated in your mind. When you eat a meal balanced with all six tastes, you feel peace ~ the peace of all that intelligence harmonized within you.
We don’t need to count calories, or measure protein-carbohydrate-fat ratios. We need to taste our way to wellness – remembering that vigorous, vitalized, optimal health is really never more than six flavors away!
As with most things in Ayurveda, the combination of tastes that’s right for you depends a lot on, well… you – your constitution, your imbalances, your age, your environment. In other words, while each of the tastes is necessary for all of us, the specifics are determined by the context of each individual, and may change over time. A balanced diet will include an appropriate quantity of each of the six tastes, according to one’s constitution (prakriti), current state (vikriti), and season.
If you don’t know your constitution, you can take our Prakriti Test here. If you have not recently assessed your current state of balance, you can take our Vikriti Test here.