The Six Tastes

In Ayurveda, food is known as ausadam, and understood as an effective remedy for acute ailments, as well as an aid for general preventative health and well-being. The main concern in Ayurvedic nutrition is that we consume foods in harmony with our individual nature. It is believed that the wrong diet (and remember, there is a unique diet for every individual) is the main causative factor of illness and disease. 

According to Ayurveda, the six tastes — sweet, salty, sour, pungent, bitter, and astringent — all help to define the nutritional value of foods and how those foods assimilate energetically within the body, when consumed.

Sweet might mean actual sugary sweets and desserts, but it can also refer to grains (think: breads, pastas, cereals), as well as sweet, juicy fruits, like pineapple, melons, grapes, or peaches

Salty refers to anything more savoury, including vegetables like celery and seaweeds, but can also be certain dairy products and flavourings like tamari and miso

Sour covers the citrus family, but also any kind of tomato products and cheeses (sour from fermentation or aging process)

Pungent is hot or spicy, and can include foods like onion, garlic, chilli peppers, and even warming spices like cinnamon or ginger

Bitter includes foods like dark leafy greens (ie. dandelion greens), bitter melon, eggplant, and turmeric

Astringent is that which draws away moisture, foods like spinach, pomegranate, cranberries, quinoa, and beans or lentils

I'll be sharing a recipe later this week, which incorporates all six tastes in a well-balanced preparation to promote optimal digestion.

Each taste can benefit or diminish one's unique dosha.

Depending on your unique constitution, certain foods may be more highly recommended over others. However, what one consumes also varies based on the the season and what they may be experiencing at any given time.

If you can recall each of the life forces, Vata, Pitta, Kapha, you'll remember that each has very distinct characteristics. When considering these characteristics and that each of us is comprised of a combination of the life forces, we can better understand what tastes (and therefore, foods) are most beneficial for us, as individuals.

Vata / salty, sour, sweet; moist, lubricating, smooth, heavy or solid, hot
the salty taste can promote salivation and therefore, digestion, and is also more grounding and soothing to the nervous system; 
sour can also fuel appetite, increase the production of digestive enzymes and juices (like bile), it can also promote liver function;
sweet is nourishing for vata, soothing to the visceral organs, including the digestive tract

Pitta / bitter, astringent, sweet; substantial, aromatic, calming, cool
bitter foods can help reduce water retention, can also help with congestion of the liver;
astringent foods can cleanse the blood, but in excess can create gas or constipation;
sweet is more cooling, taming and calming the fire of pitta, can also be soothing to the inner organs and mind, promoting fluidity

Kapha / pungent, bitter, astringent; dry, light, moderate, warm or stimulating
pungent foods produce heat and the body, helping with elimination and general removal of toxins, which is important for kapha;
bitter foods can help reduce water retention, can also help with congestion of the liver;
astringent helps the body to decongest and promotes bodily cohesiveness, hence why it is good for slower moving kapha types

Ayurveda supposes that every nutrient has a taste, energy, and post-digestive effect — that is, the effect the nutrient has after it's assimilated by the body.

When food enters the body, it triggers an immediate healing or cooling response. All sour, salty, and pungent foods produce heat in the body. Sweet, bitter, and astringent yield a cooling effect in the body. These are the effects each taste has post-digestion:

  • Sweet remains sweet
  • Sour remains sour
  • Salty's final taste is sweet
  • Bitter, astringent, and pungent all yield the final taste as pungent (hot)

Know your body: what works one day, might not the next.

In Ayurveda, a well balanced diet incorporates all six tastes. However, as noted above, some tastes are more beneficial to an individual at any given time. This is why it is important to be attune to our bodies, so that we can familiarize ourselves with the foods best for our own unique constitution, and how those food choices can change over time or on any particular day.

The chemical makeup and energetics of food extends far beyond traditional Ayurveda and how food is broken down in our bodies. The energetics of food has very much to do with how that food was grown, harvested, and prepared; the care that goes into its inception. 

The take-away here then is not simply to learn and understand the six tastes of Ayurveda, although a valuable lesson. But rather: how the six tastes, as well as the energetics and quality of our food can help us to cultivate a greater awareness about our unique bodies, and therefore, benefit our individual well-being.


Ayurveda, A Practical Guide: The Science of Self-Healing 
The Banyan Insight
personal notes, study in Ayurveda

Genevieve KangComment