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6 Tastes of Ayurveda: A Key to Finding Balance

Why are the six tastes of Ayurveda important?


The six tastes in Ayurveda along with the 20 qualities, 5 elements, and 3 doshas are the bedrock of Ayurvedic nutrition.


Read on to learn about these 6 tastes, their effects on the doshas, and how to use them as a key to finding balance in your life



6 tastes of Ayurveda: bowl of kitchari


What are the 6 Tastes of Ayurveda?


Each of the six tastes has all of the five elements but will be predominantly composed of two of the elements. See the chart below.


Taste

Predominant Elements

Sweet

earth and water

Sour

fire and earth

Salty

water and fire

Pungent

fire and air

Bitter

ether (space) and air

Astringent

earth and air (CS, Sū, 26/40)


Sweet Taste

The taste that adheres to the inside of the mouth, gives pleasure to the body, and comforts the sense organs is the sweet taste (AH, Sū, 10/2).


But the sweet taste is not just sugar, although it includes sugar. Dairy, meats, grains, legumes, oils, sweet fruits, and sweet vegetables also fall into this sweet taste category.


The sweet taste builds the tissues of the body. It's especially beneficial for children, nursing mothers, the elderly, and those who are injured or emaciated. It benefits the complexion, ojas, hair, throat, and sense organs. The sweet taste causes the body to be stout. It is healing to bone fractures because it unites things that are broken. The sweet taste prolongs life and helps us achieve the activities of life. It is difficult to digest. In excess, it can create diseases of excess kapha and fat. Some difficulties associated with excess consumption of the sweet taste are obesity, indigestion, diabetes, enlargement of glands, excess oiliness, and tumors (AH, Sū 10/7-9).


It pacifies vata and pitta doshas while increasing kapha dosha when consumed in excess.


Sour Taste

6 tastes of Ayurveda: sour, lemons

The sour taste creates saliva in the mouth, causes goose bumps and tingling of the teeth, and may cause one to squint their eyes (AH, Sū, 10/3).


The sour taste increases the digestive activity (agni) and can be used as either a stimulant for hunger before meals or as a digestive after meals. It is considered unctuous (oily), so it is both moistening and comforting. It is hot in potency, but cool to the touch when applied externally to the body where it can ease burning sensations. If it's used in excess, it can cause loss of strength, flabbiness, fainting, itching and irritation, a whitish discoloration (like anemia), skin eruptions, swellings, thirst, and fevers (AH, Sū, 10/10-11 1/2).


It increases kapha and pitta doshas when in excess, but it can help pacify vata dosha by moving the energy downward (AH, Sū, 10/10-11 1/2)


If used in very small quantities, it can stimulate kapha digestion, for example, adding lemon or lime to water, or squeezing lemon or lime juice over your meal.


Salty Taste

The salty taste increases salivation, as well as burning in the throat and cheeks (AH, Sū, 10/3 1/2).


It clears obstructions from both the channels and pores in the body, increases sweating, removes rigidity from the body, increases digestive strength, lubricates, improves taste, penetrates into the tissues of the body, and can be used to break apart abscesses and tissue growths. In excess, it increases the quantity of blood and water within the body. It can cause baldness, greying of hair, wrinkles, skin diseases, and loss of strength (AH, Sū, 10/12-13).


It decreases vata dosha and increases pitta and kapha doshas when consumed in excess.


Pungent Taste

The taste that stimulates the tongue, creates irritation, causes the cheeks to burn, and makes the eyes, nose, and mouth water is the pungent taste (AH, Sū, 10/5).


This taste stimulates hunger, increases digestion, improves taste, and decreases gas. It can soothe sore throats, allergies, and skin rashes. It reduces swelling (due to edema), fat, and excess moisture. It breaks up hard masses in the body while it clears and expands the channels of the body. If used in excess, the pungent taste can cause thirst, fainting, and tremors. It can cause the shortening and hardening of muscles, tremors, and pain in the waist and back (and other vata dosha locations). It can deplete the reproductive tissues (AH, Sū, 10/17-19).


It decreases kapha dosha, but can increase both vata and pitta doshas if used in excess (AH, Sū, 10/17-19).


Bitter Taste

6 tastes of Ayurveda: bitter, bitter gourd

The bitter taste temporarily makes it impossible to perceive other tastes and cleanses the mouth (AH, Sū, 10/4).


It is said to cure parasites, thirst, poison, skin diseases, burning sensations, fever, nausea, and loss of consciousness. It increases hunger, is easily digestible, cleanses breast milk, and increases intelligence. It dries up moisture, fat, bone marrow, feces, and urine. In excess, it causes depletion of the tissues and dryness, and creates vata diseases (AH, Sū, 10/14-16).


The bitter taste pacifies pitta and kapha doshas, but can aggravate vata dosha in excess (AH, Sū, 10/14-16).


Astringent Taste

The taste that may obstruct the throat while reducing taste perception on the tongue is the astringent taste (AH, Sū, 10/6).


This taste cleanses the blood, heals wounds, dries out moisture and fat, absorbs water, and purifies the skin. If used in excess, it can cause poor digestion, pain around the heart, constipation, loss of virility, and obstruction of channels (AH, Sū, 10/10-21 1/2).


It pacifies pitta and kapha doshas, but aggravates vata dosha when used in excess.


This list of doshas goes from most nourishing and strengthening to least nourishing and strengthening:

  • sweet

  • sour

  • salty

  • bitter

  • pungent

  • astringent (AH, Sủ, 1/14)


The sweet taste is the most nourishing and gives the most strength to the body. The astringent taste is very depleting for the body, but still necessary in small amounts to keep you balanced.


The tastes and their effects on the doshas


Each of the tastes affects each dosha differently.


Generally, when one of the doshas is out of balance it is called "aggravated," or "high/increased/elevated."


If we want to bring the dosha back into balance, we would "pacify" or "decrease/reduce" that dosha.


From the chart below you can see which tastes increase or decrease which doshas.


Tastes

Vata

Pitta

Kapha

Sweet

Reduces

Reduces

Increases

Sour

Reduces

Increases

Increases

Salty

Reduces

Increases

Increases

Pungent

Increases

Increases

Reduces

Bitter

Increases

Reduces

Reduces

Astringent

Increases

Reduces

Reduces


Another way to break this down so you can understand it better is to look at each dosha individually.


Vata dosha is increased or aggravated by the pungent, bitter, and astringent tastes. It is decreased or pacified using the sweet, sour, and salty tastes (AH, Sū, 1/15).

Increases Vata Dosha

Decreases Vata Dosha

Pungent

Sweet

Bitter

Sour

Astringent

Salty


 

Pitta dosha is increased or aggravated by sour, salty, and pungent tastes. It is decreased or pacified by sweet, bitter, and astringet tastes (AH, Sū, 1/15).

Increases Pitta Dosha

Decreases Pitta Dosha

Sour

Sweet

Salty

Bitter

Pungent

Astringent


 

Kapha dosha is increased or aggravated by sweet, sour, and salty tastes. It is decreased or pacified by the pungent, bitter, and astringent tastes (AH, Sū, 1/15).

Increases/Aggravates Kapha Dosha

Decreases/Pacifies Kapha Dosha

Sweet

Pungent

Sour

Bitter

Salty

Astringent



How to use the 6 tastes of Ayurveda as a key to finding balance in your life


6 tastes of Ayurveda: soup with condiments to get all 6 tastes in a meal

We need all 6 tastes in every meal


Now, this is not to say that you should only eat the tastes that will pacify your constitution or current state of imbalance. Ayurveda tells us that we need all 6 tastes in every meal (CS, Vi, 1/20). More on how to accomplish this in a future post.


Below we'll look at how to balance vata dosha, but pitta dosha and kapha dosha can be pacified in these same ways using the tastes indicated in the charts above.


Balancing your predominant dosha(s)


To find balance, you can eat more of the foods that will pacify or reduce your predominant dosha(s).


For example, if you have a predominance of vata in your constitution, then eat more foods that have the sweet, sour, and salty tastes and less of the foods that are pungent, bitter, and astringent. You don't want to remove all of the pungent, bitter, and astringent foods from your diet, just reduce them. Of course, there may be occasions when an Ayurvedic practitioner recommends eating pungent, bitter, and astringent foods for an individual with a predominance of vata in their constitution if they are dealing with an imbalance of pitta dosha or kapha dosha.


Balancing your current imbalance


This concept also works if you currently have a vata imbalance even though vata is not a predominant dosha in your constitution. Vata is the dosha that goes out of balance for all of us the easiest, no matter our constitution, so we may all have an opportunity to use the sweet, sour, and salty tastes when vata dosha goes out of balance.


For example, if anyone has a vata imbalance, it is beneficial to eat more sweet, sour, and salty foods and less pungent, bitter, and astringent foods.


Using the 6 tastes to keep balance during the changing seasons


We can also take this concept of the six tastes of Ayurveda into the seasons.


For example, the vata time of year in the US, generally, is from fall through early winter, before the ground becomes consistently mushy and muddy. During this time of year, eat a predominance of sweet, sour, and salty foods, and fewer foods that are pungent, bitter, and astringent. Eating too many pungent, bitter, and astringent foods during this time of year can create a vata imbalance for anyone, no matter their constitution. Of course, there may be occasions when an Ayurvedic practitioner recommends eating these foods during this time of year for an individual depending on their current state of balance, this is just a general rule.


Using the 6 tastes to keep balance through different times of life


This concept also fits into the different times of life according to Ayurveda.


For example, the time from menopause (or 50-60 years) forward is the vata time of life. Eat more sweet, sour, and salty foods during this time of life and less foods that are pungent, bitter, and astringent. Eating too many foods that are pungent, bitter, and astringent at this time of life can lead to a vata imbalance. Of course, there may be occasions when an Ayurvedic practitioner recommends eating these foods during this time of life for an individual if they have a pitta dosha or kapha dosha imbalance, this is just a general rule.


Using the 6 tastes to keep balanced in different climates


6 tastes of Ayurveda: use the tastes to balance climate changes, desert landscape

And, it works with adjusting to different climates as well.


For example, if you live in a desert area like New Mexico, you may need to eat more sweet, sour, and salty foods and less pungent, bitter, and astringent foods all year long due to the dry, light, and rough climate of the desert.


If you want to learn more about the 6 tastes of Ayurveda and how to use them to find balance in your life, you can book a consultation with me online.




These 6 tastes of Ayurveda are a simple way to find balance in your life


There's so much more to learn about the 6 tastes of Ayurveda and how they can be a key to finding balance. More blog posts will be coming to help you better understand these 6 tastes of Ayurveda and how to use them in your life.


I would love to hear about how you use the 6 tastes of Ayurveda in your life to stay balanced. Please leave a comment to let us know.



Vagbhata. Astanga Hrdayam. Translated by Prof. K. R. Srikantha Murthy, 7th ed., vol. 1, Chowkhamba Krishnadas Academy, 2010.


Dubey S.D., Singh A.N., Singh A., Deole Y. S.. "Atreyabhadrakapyiya Adhyaya". Charak Samhita New Edition, edited by Sirdeshpande M.K., Deole Y.S., Basisht G., eds., 1st edition, CSRTSDC, 2020, pp. 28, Doi:10.47468/CSNE.2020.e01.s01.028

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