In Ayurveda, taste is more than a matter of enjoyment and preference. Ayurveda has a unique understanding of balanced eating. Though getting enough whole grains, healthy fats, fruits, veggies, and protein is important, Ayurveda adds another dimension to its understanding of balanced eating. The 6 tastes is a foundational concept in Ayurvedic eating. This post will provide an overview of the 6 Ayurvedic tastes and how understanding the different tastes and their effects can support deeper health and balance.
Rasa – Taste
In Ayurveda, taste is multi-layerd. There is the initial taste (rasa), the energetics (virya), and the overall or post-digestive effect (vipaka). This post will focus on the rasa, the initial taste. However, for general understanding, the virya is whether a food is cooling, warming, or heating and the vipaka speaks to whether a food is nourishing or purifying.
What Are The Six Ayurvedic Tastes?
The sweet taste is the most nourishing and nutritive of the 6 Ayurvedic tastes. It is composed of earth and water. Dr. Lad teaches that “The sweet taste increases the vital essence of life.” (1) Some of the foods that are characterized by the sweet taste are dates, milk, rice, licorice, and ghruta ghee. Many of these foods nourish ojas (vigor/vitality) and support the integrity and strength of all the bodily tissues (1). When enjoyed in moderate amounts, the sweet taste provides essential stability and strength. When taken in excess, the sweet taste can dampen the agni (digestive fire) and may lead to ama or Kapha dosha issues.
The sour taste is also nutritive, though not as much as the sweet taste. Of the 6 Ayurvedic tastes, the sour taste is the best for building up the agni in the long run. Amla berry or amalaki, the base ingredient in Chyawanprash, is a great example of a sour food/herb. Other examples of sour foods include citrus fruits, yogurt, vinegar, cheese, lemons, and fermented foods such as kimchee and kombucha (1).
The salty taste is composed primarily of water and fire (1). When used in moderation (just a dash or pinch will do!), the salty taste supports digestion and augments the flavor of food. I think we can all relate to the importance of getting the “just right” balance with the salty taste. Too much salt may aggravate Pitta and Kapha doshas and can lead to signs of premature aging (1). However, just the right amount of salt will assist digestion and is essential for proper electrolyte balance.
The astringent taste is perhaps the most difficult to describe of the 6 Ayurvedic tastes. If you think of an unripe persimmon, that is the quintessential expression of the astringent taste. Astringency relates to dryness, and also many astringent foods have a fair amount of earth element. Examples of astringent foods are cauliflower, beans, sour apples, and cranberries. The astringent taste is balancing for both Pitta and Kapha doshas.
Pungent means spicy, and the pungent taste stimulates digestion and circulation. Pungent foods include spices such as cayenne, ginger, and black pepper, as well as naturally spicy foods such as radish. The pungent taste is balancing for Kapha doshas.
The bitter taste is the most purifying of the 6 Ayurvedic tastes. Foods that are characterized by the bitter taste include dark leafy greens such as dandelion greens and kale. Also, aloe vera and coffee are bitter. The bitter taste is balancing for Kapha and Pitta doshas.
Just a Taste…
There is much to understand when it comes to the 6 Ayurvedic tastes. However, hopefully this gives you a taste (pun intended!) and a launching point for understanding the quality and effects of the 6 Ayurvedic tastes. Bon appetit!
Lad, V. & Lad, U. (1997). Ayurvedic cooking for self-healing (2nd ed.). The Ayurvedic Press.
Greta Kent-Stoll is a Certified Ayurvedic Practitioner (NAMA), as well as a writer, editor, and Certified Iyengar Yoga Teacher. Her Ayurveda practice is based in Asheville, North Carolina and she is the co-owner of Iyengar Yoga Asheville.