The Six Tastes in Ayurveda

When you think of how food tastes to you, you probably can think of certain tastes you like or favor, and others that aren’t as appealing to you, or you dislike. Well it turns out that there is a lot more to taste than just personal appeal. The taste of food actually has a profound influence on your health and your experience of your body and mind.  Read the rest of this article to find out how.

The six tastes come from the five elements. Ayurveda emphasizes including six different ‘tastes’ in our daily diet for optimal health. The six tastes are sweet, sour, salty, pungent, bitter, and astringent. Each ‘taste’ is a combination of two elements of nature, and each taste has an effect on the different doshas. Too much or too little of any of the tastes can lead to imbalance and disease. There is also a polarity to every taste in that each taste has its positive qualities when used in the proper amount for an individual and has negative effects if taken too much or too little for a certain person.

The 6 tastes govern/influence the chemistry from the body to the mind.

When you consume the proper amount of all 6 tastes for your prakriti or vikriti, your body will respond with the production of healthy tissue and normal physiology. Each person will thrive on different proportions of each taste based on who they are and what they are going through. Taste is to the body what emotion is to the mind. Emotion in the mind tends to produce the taste and effect in the body and vice versa.

If there is too much or too little of a certain taste, the body will respond with dosha. That is where you see the imbalance of the elements as you doshic imbalance or dis-ease.

Let’s take a look at each of the six tastes, what their effects are on our body and mind, and what situations or people they are suited best for.

The Six Tastes

Sweet – made of earth and water, combined to create the sweet taste

  • Qualities - cool, heavy, moist
  • Effect - Soothing, calming, builds tissues. It is the most nourishing and tonifying of all the tastes. Builds ojas and promotes the growth of tissues. Nourishes body and mind. Gives satisfaction and relieves hunger. Important for anyone who has been depleted, dehydrated. But hardest to digest. Overuse creates overgrowth of tissues: obesity, diabetes, an environment for parasites to thrive, nausea, lethargy, and excess mucus.
    • Vata -- decreases. Creates a stability that Vata’s air-etherness needs. Earth and water together create mud so you can picture how these elements balance out the light, dry nature of Vata.
    • Pitta -- decreases because of its cooling nature.
    • Kapha -- increases because it shares all the same qualities.
  • Examples -- Natural sugars, grains, sweet herbs like licorice, shatavri, comfrey
  • Mind --
    • Asset -- satisfaction
    • Negative/overuse -- complacency

Sour – made of fire and earth

  • Qualities -- warm, heavy, unctuous.
  • Effect -- Increases appetite, encourages elimination of waste, invigorates the mind. Too much can dry you up and age you faster because of the fire element. Great for Vata, improves digestion without drying and provides warmth.
    • Vata -- decreases
    • Pitta -- increases
    • Kapha -- increases
  • Examples -- lemons, limes, hawthorn berries, apple cider vinegar, tomato sauce, fermented foods, pickled foods
  • Mind --
    • Asset -- enhances mind’s discrimination/evaluation
    • Overuse -- excessively critical, jealous, envious

Salty -- made of fire and water

  • Qualities -- warm, moisturizing
  • Effect -- A little bit enhances the flavor of everything else, increases digestion, and is moisturizing. Too much makes food unpalatable, dries you, weakens you, degenerates tissue of the body, accelerates aging, and creates inflammation.
    • Vata -- decreases
    • Pitta -- increases
    • Kapha -- increases
  • Examples -- Found in minerals and sea vegetables
  • Mind --
    • Asset -- enhances zest for life
    • Overuse -- overindulgent in sensory pleasures

Pungent -- fire and air

  • Qualities -- hot, light, dry
  • Effect -- Gives off a hot, dispersing energy. This taste has a natural ability to help break down accumulation in the body. Increases digestion, appetite, and sweating. Removes excess phlegm, kills parasites, bacteria, and fungus. Too much leads to burning and drying.
    • Vata -- increases
    • Pitta -- increases
    • Kapha -- decreases
  • Examples -- Spices like black pepper, ginger, garlic, chili peppers, jalapenos, wasabi
  • Mind -
    • Asset -- excitement, stimulation, desire to consume experiences/food
    • Overuse -- anger

Bitter -- air and ether

  • Qualities -- cooling, light, and dry
  • Effect -- Detoxifying, purifies blood and beautifies skin, antagonist of and antidote to too much sweet, restores you from overuse of any of the other tastes.
    • Vata -- increases
    • Pitta -- decreases
    • Kapha -- decreases
  • Examples -- dark leafy greens, goldenseal, dandelion
  • Mind --
    • Asset -- stimulates desire for change, dispels illusion, and helps you face reality which in moderation can keep you on a path for growth.
    • Overuse -- dissatisfied, nothing’s ever satisfying.

Astringent -- air and earth

  • Qualities -- dry, cooling, heavy
  • Effect -- it tonifies tissue, externally to heal wounds, pulls tissue together, stops bleeding, dries secretions, not easily digestible.
    • Vata -- increases
    • Pitta -- decreases
    • Kapha -- decreases
  • Examples -- pomegranates, cranberries, haritaki, legumes
  • Mind --
    • Asset -- causes mind to look inward, keeps senses pointed inward
    • Overuse -- contract sensory channels, looking at yourself incessantly, insecurity, fear

You can see how too much or too little of any of the elements leads to disease.

For example, Kapha needs the least sweet (earth and water) because Kaphas already have an abundance of earth and water elements. Kapha benefits from more pungent taste and then bitter taste. Vata needs less bitter (air and ether) because Vatas already have plenty of air and ether. That means less green juices for Vata types, even though their tendency is to love green juice and just snack here and there throughout the day. They would benefit from the opposite, sitting down for a few bigger meals with grounding qualities, like cooked veggies instead of raw, to feel more balance. They also benefit from the addition of salty and sour tastes. Pitta needs less pungent (spicy) -- even though Pittas tend to crave hot, spicy food the most, it is their demise. Bitter is best for Pitta, and then sweet.

For good health, take into consideration the tastes of the food you are eating at each meal and over the course of the day and strive to get a balance of all the tastes, emphasizing particular tastes based on the season and your body’s constitution.