What are the Six Tastes?
In Ayurvedic medicine, there are six tastes – sweet, sour, salty, pungent, bitter, and astringent – that have distinct characteristics and effects on the body and mind. Certain foods can affect your balance and constitution, and making minor adjustments can help to rebalance your dosha to help stabilise your body and mind.
When you understand the six tastes you can better control your dietary balance and help boost your natural health.
Sweet tastes are said to have a soothing effect, satisfying the psyche and adding body mass. They are associated with Water and Earth and are balanced by Bitter and Astringent tastes.
“Sweet” doesn’t only refer to refined foods like ice-cream, chocolates and sweets. In nature, sweet tastes are expressed by foods such as fruits, grains, natural sugars and milk. Sweet tastes are typically associated with “nourishing” and are abundant in carbohydrate-rich foods.
Sweet foods are said to balance the Vata and Pitta dosha, but eating sweets to excess can upset the Kapha dosha. Excess consumption can also lead to swollen hands and feet, decreased blood flow, increased body mass and increased water retention.
In Ayurveda, “sour” typically refers to sour tastes associated with fermented or acidic foods, such as yoghurt, pickles, beer, wine, and fruits like peaches, tomatoes, lemons and other citrus fruits. This taste is associated with Fire and Earth and is balanced by Astringent tastes.
Sour tastes such as tomatoes and citrus fruits stimulate the appetite and are said to aid digestion (although they should be avoided by heartburn sufferers). They are also thought to balance Vata and upset Pitta and Kapha dosha if they are enjoyed in excess.
Salty tastes are associated with Air and Water, and help to bring out the flavour in other foods and stimulate our hunger for life too. Salt can act as a laxative, helping to break down blockages, and also helps to increase blood pressure, cause water retention and combat dryness.
Salty foods not only enhance appetite and enliven the tastes of other foods, they are also said to balance Vata in moderation. Too much salt will increase Kapha and Pitta dosha, and can cause imbalances in the body. Remember that Ayurveda recommends careful use of mineral salts, not refined salts!
Pungent foods are what make hot and spicy foods spicy. They are really good for cleansing and clearing the body, helping to increase circulation and stimulate blood-flow. They’re associated with Air and Fire, and are sharp, intense tastes that are highly stimulating and fast-acting. These tastes are balanced by sweet.
Pungent foods such as chillies and garlic promote sweating and clear the sinus, and thus balance the watery Kapha dosha. Excessive consumption irritates Vata and Pitta, and can also cause ulcers, digestive problems and burning.
Bitter herbs and tastes are cooling, light, clearing and drying. They are a natural cleanser for your body, stimulating natural detoxification and digestion. They are associated with Ether and Air, and are balanced by Sweet.
Bitter foods such as green leafy vegetables are detoxifying for the body, and balance both Kapha and Pitta. If eaten excessively, bitter foods can increase Vata and cause gas or indigestion. Unprocessed coffee and chocolate are naturally bitter, as well as dandelions and neem.
Astringent herbs are drying or drawing, and typically make the mouth feel dry and cleansed. They are associated with Air and Earth, and are balanced by salty, sour and sweet.
Astringent foods are high in minerals and include leafy greens, new bananas and tart apples. These tastes are particularly good for helping to soothe gastro inflammation as they are associated with cooling. Foods such as lentils, dried beans and cauliflower help to balance Kapha and Pitta, but too much will increase Vata.
Each of the six tastes has unique benefits, and over-indulging in those foods can cause irrigation in the body. It is essential to approach your diet and food preparation with careful consideration and balance.
Even though your body’s needs are individual and unique to you, it is important that we eat each of the six tastes at every meal. This helps to create the best balance for your body, ensuring that all of the important nutrients and food groups are represented in your diet and that you are satisfied and content. Listening to your body and remembering the six tastes will give your body a healthy and balanced boost.
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