Ayurveda is much, much more than just yoga. Yoga is an incredible practice that makes us physically stronger and more flexible. Ayurveda, however, encompasses a complete lifestyle, methods, tips, and tricks, to bring ourselves into alignment with the universe. When we align with nature, when we fit into the universe, we find balance and peace. One of the biggest components of Ayurveda is being intentional about what we consume. That means being mindful of what we see, what we experience, and what we eat. What we choose to nourish our bodies with is vital to our health and well-being. While we’ve talked about foods for different doshas and seasons, today I want to focus on a singular aspect of food: tastes of Ayurveda.
The 6 Tastes of Ayurveda
Like many of the Ayurvedic topics, we cover, Rasa, or taste, is another way to cater to your dosha or balance out a dosha during a particular season. Ayurveda recognizes 6 tastes:
The sweet taste doesn’t refer to artificial sweeteners or candy. Here, we’re talking about naturally occurring sugars like glucose, sucrose, and fructose. Sweet taste is cooling and associated with heavy, cold, oily, and grounding. The primary elements of Madhura are Earth and Water, so sweet taste balances Vata and Pitta doshas and can aggravate Kapha.
Sweet ingredients can be carbohydrates, fats, or proteins. They include many fruits and vegetables like bananas and carrots, grains like corn and rice, nuts like almonds and coconut. Basil, cinnamon, vanilla, saffron, and tarragon are examples of sweet spices. It should come as no surprise that all sweeteners are also sweet tastes in Ayurveda.
Benefits of Sweet Tastes of Ayurveda
Sweet taste benefits the mucous membranes of the body. It is strengthening and nourishing, energizing, and soothing to the mind. Sweet can enhance spiritual clarity and awareness, and benefit the skin and hair. Lastly, sweet taste can strengthen the immune system and improve longevity.
A sour taste is usually caused by an acid like citric, ascorbic, or lactic acids. Sour foods cause our mouths to pucker and produce saliva. This taste is associated with hot, oily, light, and liquid. The primary elements are Earth and Fire, so sour balances Vata but aggravates Pitta and Kapha.
Sour taste includes ingredients like lemon, grapefruit, pickles, tomatoes, alcohol, vinegar, and garlic.
Benefits of Sour Tastes of Ayurveda
Unlike sweet taste, which can dull our appetite, sour taste fuels our appetite and stimulates our metabolism. Sour taste expels excess Vata, promotes liver function, awakens the mind, and improves focus.
Whereas sweet and sour tastes can come from multiple sources, salty taste is derived almost exclusively from salt. Heavy, hot, and oily are associated with salty taste. Water and Fire are the primary elements for salty, so this taste balances Vata and aggravates Pitta and Kapha.
Salty ingredients include celery, cottage cheese, tuna, soy sauce, and, of course, rock salt, table salt, and sea salt.
Benefits of Salty Tastes of Ayurveda
Salty taste, like sour, supports digestion. It also promotes absorption, assimilation, and elimination, making salty taste fantastic for all aspects of the digestive system. Salt is essential for maintaining the electrolyte balance in our bodies. Salty taste soothes the nervous system, moistens the body, and prevents stiffness.
Many people avoid bitter tastes, but like the 5 other tastes, it has its benefits in our diet. Bitter is light and dry, and the coldest taste. Its elements are air and ether, making it a good balance for Pitta and Kapha. However, its cold nature aggravates Vata dosha.
Bitter ingredients include leafy greens like kale and collards, eggplant, sesame oil, dark chocolate, coffee, cumin, and dill.
Benefits of Bitter Tastes of Ayurveda
The bitter taste is cleansing to the body; it helps get rid of natural toxins and fat in the body. Bitter taste improves other tastes, stimulates your appetite, alleviates thirst, and clears heat. It supports the liver and drains excess moisture. It also tones muscles and skin.
Astringent is a dry flavor that usually comes from tannins in foods like leaves and the outer rinds of fruit. Its associated qualities are heavy, dry, and cold, though it is a mild cold. Astringent’s primary elements are Air and Earth, so astringent balances Pitta and Kapha but aggravates Vata.
Astringent ingredients include apples, pomegranates, avocado, most raw vegetables, wheat pasta, most beans, light meat, venison, and a wide variety of spices.
Benefits of Astringent Tastes of Ayurveda
Astringent taste cleans mucous membranes, improves absorption, and promotes body adhesiveness. This taste also lends a strong healthy tone to the organs, muscles, and skin.
Pungent flavors are predominately found in herbs and spices. They are aromatic, dry, light, hot, and sharp. The primary elements are Fire and Air, so the pungent taste balances Kapha and Vata but can aggravate Pitta dosha.
Pungent ingredients include garlic, onions, mustard seeds, and most spices.
Benefits of Pungent Tastes of Ayurveda
Pungent taste is warming to the body, so it is incredibly valuable for balancing excess Kapha. It cleanses the mouth, clarifies the sensory organs, and opens up the sinuses. Pungent taste increases circulation, encourages sweating, and cleanses the muscles and blood.
Ayurvedic Tastes and You
Ayurveda recommends incorporating all 6 tastes into each meal to create a balanced diet, but when you have one or more doshas in excess you can include or exclude certain tastes to regain that necessary balance. The combination of tastes that’s right for you depends on your unique constitution, age, environment, imbalances, etc. Moreover, the right amounts and combinations of flavors can change for you over time as you change.