What if I told you that a meal of meat with rice, and a side of sauteed onions, carrots and red peppers is all just one taste?
Would you be surprised?
According to Ayurveda this isn’t a balanced meal because it’s all sweet taste.
We’re taught that veggies are good for us, but the taste, or essence of each veggie determines its effect on the body.
When you’re aware of the 6 Tastes, what they do and how they affect body and mind, you’re better equipped to eat healthy and keep the body in balance.
When I started studying Ayurveda and learned that our Western diet is predominantly made up of sweet and salty tastes I was surprised.
Too much sweet and salty food can lead to cravings, overindulgence, weight gain, heaviness, and poor food choices. When you eat too much of one or two tastes your taste buds become dull and don’t appreciate the other four tastes that are also important for balance in the body and mind.
Consider that taste isn’t necessarily in the food that you eat, but in your taste buds. If your taste buds are dull you’re unable to actually taste your food effectively.
Don’t believe me?
OK, get an orange and cut it into pieces. Eat a piece and you’ll probably taste sweet. After the first piece, eat a bit of maple syrup or honey. Then eat another piece of the orange. You’ll notice that this time the orange has more of a sour taste to it. Nothing changed about the orange. What changed was the perception of your taste buds. In this case, when you eat too many sweets, the taste buds have a harder time getting the full flavor of sweet. What happens then? Some foods taste less satisfying and we crave more.
The 6 Tastes According to Ayurveda
Sweet Taste (Earth/Water)
The qualities of sweet taste are cool, heavy and oily. It satisfies and exhilarates the body, and. when eaten in moderation has a building and nourishing effect on the body.
In the mind sweet taste promotes satisfaction, love, compassion and contentment.
When consumed in excess, it increases Kapha Dosh, congestion, heaviness, lethargy, weight gain, attachement, greed and possessiveness.
Foods that contain sweet taste are rice, wheat, most dairy, meat, maple syrup, honey.
Sour Taste (Earth/Fire)
The qualities of sour taste are heating, sharp, heavy and oily. It increases Kapha and Pitta and decreases Vata.
Sour taste helps to stimulate digestion and elimination and is refreshing to the body. It helps keep the mind alert, improves attention span and discernment.
In excess sour taste can lead to hyper-acidity, heartburn, acid indigestion. It can also lead to skin conditions such as acne, edema and boils and burning sensations in the body. In the mind excess sour taste can manifest as hyperactivity, irritability, anger, harsh judgment and resentment.
Foods that contain sour taste are lemons, limes and fermented foods.
Salty Taste (Fire/Water)
The qualities of salty taste are heating, heavy and oily. It increases Kapha and Pitta and decreases Vata.
Salty taste helps to eliminate wastes, stimulate digestion, promote healthy muscle strength, and maintains electrolyte balance in the body. In the mind salty taste can promote confidence, courage and enthusiasm.
In excess, too much salt can lead to water retention, hypertension, edema, itching and inflammation. In the mind, excess salt promotes feelings of attachment, greed, anger and irritability.
Food that contain salty taste are salt, nutritional yeast and tamari.
The qualities of pungent light, drying and heating. It increases Pitta and Vata and pacifies Kapha.
Pungent taste helps with decongestion, increases circulation, and stimulates digestion and elimination.
In the mind pungent taste promotes energy, vitality and enthusiasm.
In excess, pungent taste can lead to diarrhea, hearburn, gastritis, ulcers and inflammatory skin conditions. When eaten in excess it can increase feelings of jealousy, anger and aggressiveness in the mind.
Foods that contain pungent taste are hot chili peppers, black pepper, onions, garlic and ginger.
Bitter Taste (Air/Space)
The qualities of bitter taste are dry, rough, cold and light. It increases Vata and decreases Kapha and Pitta.
Bitter taste is anti-inflammatory, anti-microbial, anti-viral and a powerful detoxifier. It supports the liver and cleanses the blood. It can also help with skin disorders. it also scrapes excess fat from the body.
In the mind it promotes feelings of self-awareness, mindfulness and going within.
In excess bitter taste can decrease digestive efficiency, general weakness and drying of the tissues. In the mind too much bitter can lead to unconsciousness (acting without awareness or self-awareness). Luckily we don’t have to worry about bitter in excess because it’s very absent from our diets in the West.
Foods that contain bitter taste are dandelion greens, coffee, black tea, dark chocolate, bitter melon, turmeric and aloe.
Astringent Taste (Earth/Space)
The qualities of astringent taste are cooling, drying and heavy. It increases Vata and pacifies Kapha and Pitta.
Astringent taste has a constricting effect on the body and bodily tissues. This means it can help with clotting, healing ulcers, decongestion and reducing inflammation.
In the mind it can promote introversion, taking the mind away from outside stimuli.
In excess astringent taste can lead to constipation, bloating, gas, spasms and low sex drive.
In the mind too much astringent taste can lead to a scattered, anxious and fearful mind. It also increases rigidity of mind and an unwillingness to be flexible.
Foods that contain astringent taste include lentils/beans, pomegranate, bean sprouts, turmeric and some raw veggies like broccoli.
Taste and Digestion
According to Ayurveda taste is an important part of digestion. It signals to the brain what kind of food is coming down the pipeline so the digestive tract can be ready.
We aren’t what we eat, we are what we digest.
There’s a big difference between the two because we don’t digest everything we eat effectively. This is especially true if we tend to eat only certain tastes, creating imbalances in the body and mind.
A Healthy Diet Includes All 6 Tastes
According to Ayurveda, a healthy diet includes all 6 Tastes. If you can incorporate all of them in every meal, even better.
This is one of the reasons that spices are used in Ayurvedic cooking. Every kitchen spice has a taste and by adding certain spices to a dish you can incorporate a taste that might be missing, and make your meal delicious.
What’s important for us to recognize in the West, is that our diets are very heavy in sweet and salty. Sour and pungent have also become very popular. It’s important for us to incorporate more bitter and astringent tastes into our diet to help balance our minds and bodies and move us toward better health, healing and wellness.
Look at the different foods under bitter and astringent and try to incorporate some of them into you diet. FYI – drinking more coffee and eating more chocolate is not what I’m talking about when it comes to bitter taste! Try dandelion greens – they’re in season right now and awesome for spring season!
Retrain your Mind about Taste
It’s time to retrain your mind to think about taste as part of health and wellness.
When I first discovered Ayurveda I ate mostly sweet and salty taste. That’s what tasted good to me and that’s what I craved.
Now that I have the knowledge of the qualities and benefits that each taste offers my body and mind, I love eating bitter and astringent – and all tastes.
I strive to incorporate all tastes as much as possible in every meal.
Ayurvedic cleansing has also helped me to reset my taste buds. Eating a mono-diet for a few days of a meal with whole foods and all 6 tastes re-vitalizes the taste buds and helps to retrain the brain so you crave the foods that actually benefit your body.
It’s a journey, and a delicious one at that!