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Hippocrates, the famous Greek physician, in the year 440 BC said, “Let food be thy medicine!”

The same food can be medicine for one but poison for another depending on what your “Prakruti” (your original mind body constitution) or Vikruti  (imbalanced state of doshas) is at the moment.

In this blog let’s explore how the sense of “Taste” can help us connect to food at a much deeper level and also help us choose the right foods for our mind body constitution….

Of course, to use the sense of taste correctly and therapeutically, we need to slow down and get in touch with our true self and start listening to the signals that the body is trying to give us.

The six tastes have complex therapeutic properties. They clearly have the potential of energies of the macrocosm within them. And they have the power to balance our Doshas. We can also use the 6 tastes as a guide for selecting foods that balance our Doshas.

We all have emotional connection to the tastes that were introduced to us in our early years by our mother! Mom’s food always feels satisfying to our soul! Isn’t it?

There is also a strong biological connection to various tastes. Taste indicates to the body what kind of nutritional value a food has; sweet taste usually gives a lot of comfort, spicy taste warm us up and helps clear our sinuses, sour taste ignites our digestive fire! In Ayurveda, it’s said that digestion starts the moment food hits your mouth. There are approximately 10,000 taste buds in the mouth. These taste buds help to signal your body to release the appropriate enzymes needed to break down the given food.

The Six Tastes as per Ayurveda are sweet, sour, salty, bitter, pungent and astringent.

Sweet – (Madhura as in sanskrit)

Madhura is the sweet taste found in food, which is comforting and fulfilling. Madhura is high in the elements of earth and water and is balancing to Vata and Pitta Doshas. But too much sweet can increase Kapha.

The best sources of sweet taste are grains, milk, sweet fruits, starchy vegetables, and some meats and nuts.

Sweet foods prevent dehydration by increasing moisture in the body and can help with constipation. They can also help balance hormones and soothe the mucus membranes.

As sweet foods in excess can contribute to weight gain, diabetes, and heart disease, it is advisable to eat in moderation.

Sour (Amla)

Amla is the sour taste, made up of earth and fire elements. Sour foods can aid in digestion and help nourish the blood and various organs. Amla is very balancing to Vatas, who generally have a weak digestive fire. Pittas should eat sour foods in moderation or even avoid for some time if they feel they have excess heat in the body. Kaphas should also moderate the amount of sour food in their diets.

Sour foods can help the digestive processes in your body, allowing your body to break down food more efficiently. Sour foods also help improve your circulation.

The best sources of sour taste are lemons, limes, grapefruit, apple cider vinegar, fermented foods, and fermented dairy products like yogurt, sour cream, and kefir.

Too much sour in the diet can lead to hyperacidity, diarrhea, excessive thirst, and cause eczema flare-ups.

Salty (Lavana)

Lavana is the salty taste found in food and made up of water and fire. Salt helps to enhance the flavor of food and also helps to energize us, aids in digestion, and can help with nutrient absorption in the body. Salty taste can be very balancing for Vata, but excessive salt can be irritating to Pitta and Kapha Doshas.

Good sources of salt can be found, of course, in salt, but also celery, olives, tamari, sea vegetables, soy sauce, and miso.

Excessive salt, primarily found in processed foods, should be avoided. Too much salt in the diet can lead to fluid retention, hypertension, intestinal inflammation, and bloating.

Pungent (Katu)

The pungent taste is made up of fire and air and is best for Kaphas. Vatas can benefit from a moderate amount of pungent food but should be careful as it can be drying for them. Pittas do best with the least amount of pungent food due to its ability to overheat.

Pungent taste can help aid the digestive fire and help with the detoxification process. It can help with weight loss. It can help clear the sinuses as well.

Pungent taste is found in spicy foods like green chilies, black pepper, garlic, onions, ginger, and radishes.

Bitter (Tikta)

Tikta is the bitter taste made up of air and ether elements. It is the most balancing for Pitta and Kapha Doshas. But Vatas must use it in moderation, as excess may aggravate vata.

Bitter foods help to detoxify and cleanse the body.

Excellent sources of bitter tastes are raw kale, collard greens, Brussels sprouts, fenugreek, dill, turmeric, cacao, coffee, most teas.

Astringent (Kashaya)

Kashaya is the astringent taste, known for causing a dry feeling in the mouth or causing you to pucker your mouth. Made up of air and earth elements, this taste is most beneficial to Pitta and Kapha Doshas. But in excess it can aggravate vata dosha.

Astringent tastes can be found in cranberries, unripe bananas, pomegranates, green beans, legumes, turnips, and artichokes.

Astringent foods are cooling in nature. They can help combat diarrhea, and water retention. They can also aid in the process of lekhana (scraping fat from the system).

Ayurveda believes that all six tastes should be consumed every day to promote balance within the body.

Vatas should focus on more sweet, salty, and sour tastes in their diets and limit pungent, bitter, and astringent tastes.

Pittas need sweet, bitter, and astringent tastes more than pungent, sour, and salty tastes.

Kaphas should incorporate more bitter, astringent, and pungent tastes in their diet and decrease sweet, salty, and sour tastes.

Taste is an important function of our body, and Ayurveda recognizes the essential role it plays in our health. When we focus on the six tastes, we can intuitively create nutritional meals that will nourish our bodies at the deepest level of our soul!

It may seem like a lot of work to plan your meals according to the tastes that will balance your current vikruti (imbalances) but if you reflect on ways that taste corresponds, you’ll start to see how it all relates.

For example, to balance Vata (typically cold, light, dry), you’d add heavy grains to ground the Vata. Grains are sweet in taste and heavy as well. They are also grounding and building in nature. And for kapha, which is typically heavy, damp and mucous forming, dry and light foods tend to have a balancing effect. Astringent, bitter and pungent foods are best for kaphas. So, go for green leafy vegetables which have all these tastes and qualities needed to balance kaphas.

To learn more on the science of six tastes, check out our in-person cooking classes.

Or learn at your own pace through our self-paced online courses “Basics of Ayurveda” and “The Digestion immunity connection”.

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It is my humble wish to make Basics of Ayurveda and holistic nutrition available to each one of us in an easy to understand format. ‘coz if all of us are healthy at the deepest level of the soul, only then this planet will be a happier place to live!

NAMASTE!

Preeti Syal

M.Sc., R.H.N., Certified Ayurvedic Lifestyle Consultant

The content provided in my blogs are for knowledge sharing purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.