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Taste as Medicine: The Six Tastes of Ayurveda

Taste as Medicine: The Six Tastes of Ayurveda

We all gravitate towards different tastes. Some of us love (and crave!) salty foods, whereas others might lean more towards sweet tastes, or spicy dishes. While your taste preferences might seem somewhat inconsequential, Ayurveda sees things differently. In Ayurveda, taste is one of the most important aspects of food, because it influences one’s core state of balance.

According to Ayurveda, six tastes can be ascribed to all foods. These are: sweet, salty, bitter, astringent, pungent, and sour. All six are needed to balance a meal, and hence to balance your individual nature or in Sanskrit, your prakriti. How much of each is needed by your individual body will depend on whether you are a Vata, Pitta, or Kapha or a combination thereof. 

A Balanced Diet Includes All Six Tastes

Here in the Western world, our diets tend to revolve largely around foods that are sweet and salty (pastries and French fries, anyone?) But Ayurveda recommends incorporating all six tastes—sweet, sour, salty, pungent, bitter, and astringent—at every meal. Here's why: each taste has an intimate relationship with the doshas and personal balance.

Sweet or madhura tastes help build those tissues that are formed from earth and water. Hence, sweet substances strengthen Kapha. An overload of sweets, on the other hand, can create a Kapha imbalance, which needs to be corrected with pungent, bitter, and astringent tastes and warming foods.

  • Naturally sweet foods: rice, dairy, wheat breads, sweet fruits like pears and mangoes.

Salty, sour, and pungent tastes strengthen Pitta. That is, they strengthen all those functions associated with a rise in temperature: metabolic processes, for example. An excess of these tastes, however, aggravates Pitta and needs balancing out with sweet, cooling foods.

  • Naturally salty foods: salt!
  • Naturally sour foods: lemon, lime, tomato
  • Naturally pungent foods: ginger, black pepper, mustard

Pungent, bitter, and astringent tastes increase Vata and all phenomena to do with movement, penetration, and cleansing of channels. If you need to pacify Vata, you need to focus on the sweet, sour, and salty tastes and eat more warm foods.

  • Naturally bitter foods: lettuce, leafy greens, daikon
  • Naturally astringent foods: lentils and pulses, tofu, apples

This analysis of taste and its properties was made over centuries of observation by ancient Ayurvedic healers many millennia ago, but they actually make a lot of sense when seen through a scientific lens, too.

From a scientific standpoint, each taste is associated with certain chemicals your body needs:

  • Sweet: carbohydrates, sugars, fats, amino acids
  • Sour: organic acids
  • Salty: salts
  • Pungent: volatile oils
  • Bitter: alkaloids, glycosides
  • Astringent: tannin

In the rush of daily life, however, most of us tend to eat on the run, grabbing a sandwich here or a beverage there. How, then, can you make sure you get all six tastes on your plate every day?

Spices: An Easy Way to Get All Six Tastes

Spices are one of the easiest ways to incorporate all six tastes into your cooking. Making matters easier still, our Gourmet Churnas (Vata, Pitta, and Kapha) are precise blends of spices and seasonings that incorporate each flavor your body needs, while helping to balance Vata, Pitta, or Kapha, respectively. All you need to do is sprinkle them on your soups, salads, and other cooked foods at the table. Or fry them in a small amount of ghee and then add to steamed vegetables or soups.

Another easy, quick way to balance your palette with all six tastes: sip our dosha-balancing Vata, Pitta, and Kapha herbal teas with meals, or between them. It’s that simple!

The more you incorporate all six tastes into your diet, the more balanced you’ll feel—and the more you’ll begin to appreciate a broader range of good-for-you foods, herbs, and spices.

Keep on topic

  • The Importance of Bitter and Astringent Tastes for Balanced Nutrition

  • © 1999, 2021 Maharishi AyurVeda Products International, Inc. (MAPI). All Rights Reserved. MAPI does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. Products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. See additional information.