What are the Six Tastes of Ayurveda (and Why do they Matter?)
Food is medicine. One of the greatest ways we can shift our lifestyle to one of health, vibrancy, and joy is by nourishing ourselves with proper meals. When we upgrade our food intake, we not only raise the frequencies of our physical, mental, and emotional being to connect more deeply with ourselves and the earth, but we promote a healthier planet overall.
Ayurveda’s philosophy is that one single food may not be a good choice for every person, but every single food available to us is a good choice for someone, at least some of the time. That means there is no one size fits all diet. There is no blanket statement “good” food and “bad” food. Everyone is so different, and the way one person’s body reacts to a certain food doesn’t necessarily indicate that their neighbor’s body will respond in the same way.
What serves you may not serve the next person, and vice versa. It’s really a personal matter.
That being said, there are some guidelines around what you eat that should be taken into consideration for the greater good of your well-being (and planet Earth’s):
Eat fresh, whole, minimally processed seasonal foods as much as possible.
Bonus points if you can get your food from a local organic farmer, gardener, or herbalist. Extra bonus points if you grow the food yourself!
Basically, the food we eat just has to be real— like grew off a tree or out of the ground kind of real. Not made with a bunch of chemicals in some factory by machines to be sold in plastic bags on the shelves of supermarkets across the entire country.
So just to clarify, when I say “there is no ‘good’ food or ‘bad’ food,” products like Doritos, Cheez-Its, Oreos, Kellogs, etc. are not even part of the discussion here. We’re solely looking at vegetables, herbs, fruits, nuts, seeds, beans, grains, and small scale, free range, humanely sourced animal products.
Real whole food
grown in healthy, harmonious conditions
is where health lies.
Okay! Now that we’ve got that sorted out, let’s move on to the six tastes.
In Ayurveda, there are six tastes we should incorporate into our meals. They are sweet, sour, salty, pungent, astringent, and bitter. In the same way that the doshas are made of the five elements, so too are the six tastes.
Sweet is made of water and earth. So it’s similar to the kapha dosha, which is also made of earth and water. The qualities of the sweet taste mirror kapha dosha as well — heavy, moist, cool, stable, smooth, and soft. The sweet taste is the most nourishing of all tastes. It builds our tissues, hydrates our body, strengthens our ojas (immunity), and grounds our bodies and minds. Vata and pitta dosha do really well with the sweet taste, but it’s best for kapha to minimize sweets due to the likeness in qualities. Examples of the sweet taste are grains, nuts, and dairy products.
Sour is made of fire and earth. It’s heavy, hot, moist, and stable. Sour foods fire up the digestive system and increase circulation. Due to the heating quality, it’s not ideal for pitta dosha, and the heavy, moist attributes can increase those same kapha tendencies. Vata, on the other hand, benefits greatly from the sour taste! Examples include sour fruit and fermented foods like yogurt or tempeh.
Salty is made of water and fire. It’s moist, warm, and a little bit heavy. The salty taste hydrates the body by nourishing the plasma tissues, mildly calms the nervous system, and increases our flexibility and suppleness. Salty taste is best for vata dosha, but pitta and kapha do fine with small amounts. Examples include pink Himalayan and sea salt, seaweed, kombu, and seafood.
Pungent is made of fire and air. It’s hot, light, mobile, and dry. Pungent taste is spicy and purifying! As the hottest and driest taste, it strongly increases agni (digestive fire) and reduces the the tissues longterm (too much purification leads to burning up the tissues). Kapha does very well with the pungent taste and will benefit greatly from spicy foods. Examples include chili peppers, black pepper, ginger, and onion.
Astringent is made of earth and air. It’s dry and cool. Even though the earth element is present, the air is stronger here, and therefore the astringent taste is more drying and reducing than it is toning. Astringents are best for pacifying pitta and kapha doshas. Dry and cool are both qualities of vata, so when taken, vata dosha increases. Examples of astringent foods include beans, cranberries, and pomegranate.
Bitter is made of air and ether. It’s cool, light, dry, and mobile. It’s the coldest of all tastes and reduces agni. Actually, the bitter taste purifies and reduces all the body’s tissues. It’s great for detoxing. Bitter is best for pitta dosha, but kapha dosha benefits strongly from it as well. Examples include dandelion, goldenseal, arugula, chard, and many leafy greens.
Regardless of what your dominant dosha or imbalance is, every meal should ideally include each of the six tastes.
The proportions of tastes, however, will vary depending on what needs balancing within you at any specific time. Because the goal is balance— if you have a pitta imbalance, you don’t want to eat so much cooling food that you completely put your fire out and suddenly catapult yourself into a vata-kapha imbalance instead.
So, for example, let’s say you have a vata imbalance. You’d want your meal to be strongly focused around the sweet, sour, and salty tastes, with a small amount of pungent, and just a smidge of astringent and bitter.
If you have a pitta imbalance, you’d focus primarily on the bitter, astringent, and sweet tastes, with a small amount of sour and salty, and a just a smidge of pungent.
If you have a kapha imbalance, your meal would ideally consist primarily of pungent, bitter, and astringent tastes, while adding a little bit of salty and sour, and just a teensy bit of sweet.
So then comes the questions, what do I do if I have multiple doshas out of balance? Let’s say you have pitta and kapha out of balance at the same time. Pay attention to the similar tastes. Both kapha and pitta benefit from bitter and astringent tastes, so you can safely focus on those!
Beyond that, we know from above that pitta skyrockets with the pungent taste but kapha does great with spicy foods, and we know pitta benefits from sweet taste, but kapha increases with sweet. That means you’ll need to pay close attention to your body and plan each meal according to which dosha you feel most out of balance at any specific time. If you’ve got a kapha-pitta imbalance but are currently experiencing sweating and heartburn, have the sweet taste be stronger than the pungent taste. But if you’re kapha-pitta imbalance is manifesting as clammy skin and swelling, it’s probably best to put that pungent taste before the sweet taste for the next meal.
It’s all about listening to the body, paying close attention to your symptoms and experiences, and choosing the foods that will help relieve them. By learning the six tastes of Ayurveda, you’re empowering yourself to put your health and wellness back into your own hands. You’re connecting with your body and the elements of the earth in order to find harmony within both.
If you have questions, comments, or concerns please feel free to reach out to me! I offer one-on-one Ayurveda consultations that can help you find the perfect meal plan and lifestyle habits so you can live a healthier, happier, more peaceful life.