By Sheyna Haisman-Holmes
In Ayurveda, there are six tastes that exist in everything we eat. Rasa (taste) is a sensation on the tongue. These tastes arise from the attraction of the 5 elements (ether, air, fire, water, earth) that together create the 6 tastes. It is said that the nectar of the moon and its effect on water is what creates various tastes. Each taste is a combination of two elements and correlates to certain bodily organs.
Madhura (sweet) Earth + Water ~Thyroid & upper part of the lungs
Amla (sour) Earth + Fire ~Middle/lower lobes of the lungs
Lavana (salty) Water + Fire ~Kidneys
Katu (pungent) Air + Fire ~Stomach & heart
Tikta (bitter) Air + Ether ~Pancreas, spleen & liver
Kashaya (astringent) Air + Earth ~Colon
There are ways to balance doshas through working with the tastes, for each one has qualities that can raise or lower each dosha. Through an experience with a taste, there are also psychological effects.
Sweet: VP- K+. Pleasant, heavy, cooling and oily. Sweet is nutritive to all tissues and can raise Kapha dosha when consumed in excess. Present in honey, dates, beets, rice, almonds, ghee, cardamom, vanilla and more. Sweet embodies Prasāda= compassion, love, holiness
Sour: V- PK+. Acidic, liquid, light, heating and stimulating to the metabolism. Psychologically it calls forth comprehension, appreciation, recognition, and discrimination. Sharpens the mind but can cause judgment and jealousy in excess. Present in citrus, tomatoes, cheese and vinegar.
Salty: V- PK+. Heating, heavy and oily. Salty can act as a laxative and antispasmodic. Supports growth, energy and electrolyte balance. Psychologically enhances spirit, confidence, courage and enthusiasm. Present in seaweeds, celery, salt and soy sauce.
Pungent/Spicy: VP+ K-. Light, drying and heating. Helps digestion, cleans the mouth, clears sinuses, helps circulation and clears wastes & parasites. Psychologically brings enthusiasm, vitality, clarity and mental sharpness. Present in chilies, onion, radish, garlic and many spices.
Bitter: V+ PK-. Cool, light and dry. Bitter improves all other tastes and helps the skin through cleansing the liver and supporting the pancreas. It tonifies the body and can reduce fever. Psychologically, it makes the mind more self aware and less attached to pleasures. This taste can help one to feel grounded inside, but too much can cause cynicism and isolation. Present in dark leafy greens, aloe, coffee, chocolate and turmeric.
Astringent: V+ PK-. Cooling, drying and heavy. Improves absorption of nutrients, binds stool, stops bleeding and acts as an anti-inflammatory. Psychologically it’s supportive and grounding. Astringent can ease the mind, but too much can cause fear and anxiety. Present in apples, pomegranate, beans, cruciferous veggies, rosemary and parsley.
In addition to each rasa (taste), each herb and food has a vĪrya (energy/active principle) and a vipāka (post digestive effect). A vĪrya is either heating or cooling. The post-digestive effect (vipāka) is a conversion of the initial taste to the taste that resides in the colon at the end of digestion. There are only 3 options at this stage: sweet, sour, or pungent. From here, it carries nutrients into the cells via pīlu Agni, which is the digestive fire in the cell membranes.
With all that we consume, it takes about 6 hours to digest it completely. It also takes about 5 days for each level of bodily tissues to be nourished from this food. The nutrients are being broken apart and transferred for 35 days, all the way down to our reproductive tissues, which are the last set of tissues to be nourished.
The 6 tastes are not something that we just experience on our tongues; the effects of them are carried throughout the entire body to nourish us on a cellular level. This helps us to understand why incorporating all the tastes in our diet are very important.
Below is a simple recipe that incudes all 6 tastes. This recipe can stimulate appetite, ignite digestion, reduce toxins in the body and help with morning sickness. The body experiences these 6 tastes and then produces all the enzymes needed to break down what is coming, which ignites digestion.
1 tsp. fresh ginger (grated into pulp)
3 tsp. lemon juice
1 tsp. honey
2-3 pinches salt
Using a cheese grater or micro planer is the best way to get the ginger in a pulp like form. Mix everything in a small bowl and keep in the fridge for up to 1 week. Eat ¼ teaspoon before a meal for appetite stimulation. Take it after a meal for slow digestion. Try some first thing in the morning for morning sickness. This recipe is an ama pachana (reduces toxins) and Agni deepana (strengthens digestive fire).