The six tastes are one of the guiding principles of Ayurvedic theory and in general, we want to make sure we include some amount of all six tastes, if not in one meal, than in some form throughout the day. If we’re missing one of the six tastes, we’re left craving and even though we’ve missed the astringent taste, we may crave sweet, since craving sweet and salty are the body’s default cravings mechanisms. To prevent cravings and promote good health and an Ayurvedically well balanced diet, including all of the tastes is key.
In Ayurveda, one taste is not necessarily considered “good” or “bad,” nor are some tastes considered to be superior to others. They all have different effects. Some tastes are ones which we may need to have larger quantities of in our diets, while other tastes by their nature, are consumed or included in smaller quantities.
When we consider the tastes, there is certain terminology used in Ayurveda.
Taste including the 6 tastes: astringent, bitter, pungent, sour, salty, sweet.
whether something is heating or cooling. Generally, pungent, salty and sour foods as well as animal products and vegetable oils have heating virya. Foods that are astringent, bitter, and sweet are cooling.
This is the post-digestive effect. The taste after a food goes through the digestive system. There are general rules for vipak. Sweet and salty foods have a sweet vipak. Sour foods have a sour vipak. Pungent, bitter, and astringent foods have a pungent vipak.
The Six Tastes Defined:
This is the taste that creates dryness the mouth. We don’t necessary have a taste bud for astringent, but it is an important quality of food. The astringent taste tonifies and dries out the tissues. Many diuretics have an astringent taste as well as foods that dry out the body overall. The astringent taste is airy and is related to the vata dosha. It is the astringent taste that can increase gas in the body. Tannins in green and black tea have astringency to them as well.
White potatoes, beans (all beans have some astringency to them and is the reason why beans increase the vata dosha and why beans can be gassy), green apples, grapes, dry red wine, black, white and green tea (Camellia sinesis), rooibos (African red bush or Aspalathus linearis, which is a legume or bean), green bananas, turmeric, coriander (leaves and seeds), pomegranate, cranberries, blueberries, most berries, bay leaf, aloe vera, basil, rosemary, nutmeg, the white peel inside citrus fruits, and astragalus (Astragalus membranaceus, which is another legume, like rooibos).
Increases vata, decreases pitta, decreases kapha
We have taste buds for bitter and this taste includes the many active phytochemicals that have potent medicinal properties. We only need small amounts of this taste in our overall diet. While many bitter foods are powerfully medicinal, some bitters are poisonous, and some bitters teeter-totter between medicinal and poisonous depending on the dose, the person, the form it is taken in, the season, other foods ingested, and other compounding factors. Many tonics are bitter, and as Dr. Vasant Lad says, “bitter is better for the liver.” This may be true for foods and herbs like dark leafy greens, neem, turmeric and goldenseal, but may not be as much the case for coffee, which is probably the most prevalent bitter food in the Standard American Diet.
All of the bitter greens and dark leafy greens (even the not so dark) are bitter. This includes: iceberg lettuce, romaine and butter lettuce, red and green lettuce, mustard greens, collard greens, kale, kohlrabi and more. Coffee (whether caffeinated or decaffeinated) as well as many teas, contain bitterness. Chocolate, rhubarb, sesame, licorice, beer, eggplant, and bitter gourd or kerala, are also all bitter.
Increases vata, decreases pitta and kapha.
This is the quality that creates heat in the mouth and the body. When we call something “spicy,” we are often referring to its pungency. From an Ayurvedic perspective, this taste stimulates agni, the digestive fire. Just like a fire, in excess, it can be drying and too much heat can create inflammation, so this is one of those tastes for which it is important to be cautionary. Just because a little is good, it doesn’t mean a lot is better. The pungent taste is catabolic, and can burn fat and increase the metabolic rate.
All of the peppers are pungent to different degrees. So whether we are talking about bell peppers, red peppers, jalapeno, habaneras, or other peppers, they are all pungent. Other pungent foods include: ginger, garlic, onion, asafoetida, cloves, cayenne, cinnamon, cardamom, cumin, thyme, sage, turmeric, wasabi, horseradish, mustard seeds and greens, radishes, black and green peppercorns.
Increases pitta and decreases vata and kapha. (Because it can cause dryness, small amounts decrease vata; large amounts increase vata.)
The sour taste is the one that causes the mouth to water. It is also hot and fiery and increases agni, the digestive fire. Many condiments have a sour taste for this reason. Sour foods stimulate digestion and they are also at the same time anabolic, adding tissue to the body. Fermented foods (including miso, sauerkraut and cheeses) are sour. Too much sour has the potential to increase inflammation in the body.
yogurt, sour cream, buttermilk, cheese, all citrus fruits, tomatoes (in all forms, including fresh, dried, sauce, ketchup, chutney), kiwi, vinegar, pickles, unripe fruits, miso and strawberries.
Increases pitta and decreases vata and kapha (in moderation; this taste can increase all three doshas in excess)
All sour foods have a sour vipak.
We have prominent taste buds for salty and we crave this taste, since in nature, the salty taste is often hard to come by. In the modern diet, characterized by a plethora of processed foods, the salty taste is hard to avoid. Salt is salty and salt comes in many forms, all of which are not created equal. While we tend to associate salt with sodium chloride, the healthiest forms of salt contain a variety of minerals and trace elements, many of which also taste salty.
Salt, sea salt, Himalayan rock or pink salt, Celtic sea salt, rock salt, real salt, seaweed, fish, celery and celery seed and root, miso, tamari, soy sauce, ketchup and mustard (because they contain added salt), olives and foods with added salt such as nuts, chips, breads and soups.
Increases the pitta and kapha doshas and decreases vata.
All salty foods generally have a sweet vipak.
We love the sweet taste because sweet provides satisfaction in our lives. If you think about most comfort foods, they are sweet and also oily. According to Ayurveda, it is not only foods that are classically thought of as sweet (such as sweets and sugary foods) that are sweet. In addition to carbohydrate-rich foods such as grains, sweet foods like sugarcane and beets, dairy products and oils are also sweet. In nature, many of these foods provide a needed energy source for the body (particularly for the nervous system, whose preferred fuel is glucose), they also contain various phytochemicals and micronutrients and antioxidants (think omega 3-6-9 fatty acids and the pigments, vitamins and minerals in fresh fruits). For this reason, sweets that are whole grain, minimally processed oils, and fruits and vegetables are the cornerstone of a plant-based Ayurvedic diet.
All whole grains, dairy products, oils, sweet fruits including mangoes, peaches, apricots; sweet vegetables such as yams, winter squash, cucumbers, avocados, beets, carrots; many nuts such as almonds, cashews, macadamia nuts and pecans; honey, sesame and sunflower seeds; and spices like fennel, rose, saffron, cardamom, anise, dill, poppy seeds and cinnamon.
Increases kapha and decreases vata and pitta.
General reminders about the tastes: Some types of foods can have more than one taste. For example, apples can be both astringent and sweet. Turmeric is astringent, bitter, pungent and a bit sweet. Oranges are both sour and sweet. And, within a type or category of food, individual items may have different qualities. For example, you can bite into a very sour apple, or a very sweet apple and the same is true for many other types of foods.