Our entire psychology is connected with our nutrition. Salt: basis for awakening consciousness; Sour: refreshing, activating; Sweet: general sense of well-being; Bitter: resistance for the will”
– Albert Soesman
The Six Tastes
Taste has been studied for thousands of years, across various cultures and peoples from around the world. “Ancient writings of India, China, the Middle East and even in older Western healing systems such as the Four Humor classification of the Greeks, have documentation of classifying herbs and foods according to the properties and tastes of the natural elements.” Through studying these ancient teachings, and through consciously observing our personal experience, we can come to understand the nuances of each taste and how they all affect us psychological, physiologically, and pathologically. We’ve learned a little bit about the sweet taste from our previous article, “The Six Tastes: Sweet,” and this week we’re going to talk about Sour.
To refresh your memory—or if you haven’t ready that article yet, to fill you in, the six tastes, according to Ayurveda, are: sweet (bland), sour (acidic), pungent (hot), astringent (dry), bitter (tart), and salty (moistening). We need all six tastes in our diet, and becoming acquainted with the six tastes can help us better understand how what we eat affects us, and how we can nourish ourselves fully.
It’s important for us to develop a personal relationship to each taste so that we can understand our own bodies and needs more intimately, and also because the way something tastes/how it interacts with the body is different for each person. There are general guidelines and categories, but it isn’t a universal, exact science. For example, some of us love sour taste, while others can’t stand it. Some of us experience the sweetness of honey as too sweet, and others experience it as not nearly sweet enough. There are varying degrees, based on your own personal constitution, environment, sense of smell (which interacts with our ability to taste), current balance of the six tastes (ex: if you’re only eating a few, then you might have a strong reaction to the ones you’re not getting enough of), and among other things, the level of liquid in your mouth (according to Ayurveda, the sense of taste does not exist without the water element; if our mouth was completely dry/void of saliva—the water element—then we would experience no taste at all; and if we experience the opposite end of that spectrum—drinking only water, we also experience no taste. The structure and amount of saliva in our mouth, and the structural combination of nutrients within what we ingest both play huge roles in what we experience as taste).
The experience of sour makes us pucker our lips a bit, and activates the production of saliva. It is composed mainly of the Earth and Fire elements, which means, according to Ayurveda, it increases Kapha and Pitta and pacifies Vata. It is heating to the digestive system, and stimulates our appetitive and digestive fires. It is really good for alleviating symptoms of flatulence (gas), nervousness, anxiety, circulatory issues, fear, anorexia, and overthinking. Sour foods and herbs can quench thirst, increase metabolism, stop diarrhea and sweating, set blocked energy back into motion, develop our sense of touch, and invigorate us—when taken in moderation.
Sour works on all seven dhatus (tissues) of the body except the reproductive tissues. In case you’re wondering, the 7 dhatus (tissues) are: plasma (rasa), blood (rakta), muscle (mamsa), fat (meda), bone (asthi), nerves (majja), and reproductive tissues (shukra—male, arthava—female). Each of our cells and organs are affected by the six tastes in different ways, and sour acts primarily on our liver and gallbladder.
Too much or too little sour foods will harm the liver and gallbladder over time. Excessive use will also injure the spleen and stomach, wrinkle the skin and lips, make us feel tired or lazy, impair our vision, cloud our judgment, create pimples or itchiness on our skin, make us nervous or wilted, and weaken our immune system. Adding in a little more pungent foods to your diet can help rebalance the body if you’ve gone too far out of balance with sour tasting foods. (That said, scheduling a consultation with us is the best way to understand your own specific needs and receive personalized, extensive guidance, since each individual is unique and has varying needs).
Sour (in balance) can activate feelings of gratitude and give rise to understanding, and the flexibility to be adventurous and spontaneous and to perceive, distinguish, and categorize information. Out of balance, sour can instigate feelings of criticism, jealousy, rejection, impatience, giddiness, selfishness, and hyperactivity.
Eating sour tasting foods and herbs in moderation can be incredibly helpful for our digestive system, overall mood and morale, and for keeping our body (emotional, mental, physical, spiritual) invigorated.
How much is too much?
If you’re eating too much sour, you’ll probably feel sour about life. Uninterested, unmotivated, judgmental, dissatisfied—those are all good indications we’ve had too much sour food. If you notice your skin wrinkling prematurely, or lots of lines in your lips (which is also a sign of dehydration), you could also be experiencing symptoms of too much sour. With any of the tastes, if you’re primarily eating one taste of food and not incorporating the others tastes into your diet, something is probably off balance. So check in with the ingredient list below and ask yourself how often you’re eating sour foods and herbs. Some foods can have the taste/qualities of multiple tastes at once, so that’s encouraging to those of us that eat a lot of fruit and fermented foods—fruits are often both sweet and sour, fermented foods are often sour and salty. It’s fun and helpful to learn bits and pieces of Ayurveda and to start to self-study and self-diagnose, and, that said, again, the best way to understand how these teachings apply directly to you and your constitution is to schedule a consultation with us. Ayurveda (including the small section of these teachings around the Six Tastes) is very comprehensive and meant to be specific to the individual. If you have questions about anything, you can always contact us directly via email or phone.
Some sour foods: Citrus fruits, cultured seeds and nuts, sour plums, sour cherries, sour grapes, passion fruit, pineapple, green apples, cranberry, blackberries, strawberries, raspberry, hawthorn berries, raspberries, schisandra berries, (most fruits), tamarind, pickles, tomatoes, dough breads, butter, cheese, sour cream, yogurt, alcohol, vinegar, most fermented foods, garlic, savory spices, miso, coriander, cardamom, cloves, juniper berries, Swiss chard, peppers, paprika, eggplant, rhubarb, alcohol and tinctures
Some sour herbs: Hawthorn berries, rosehips, raspberry leaves, sorrel, orange peel, cranberry, peony, juniper berries
“The mouth is the beginning of the digestive tract. What you eat becomes a part of you. Eating something as a long-standing effect on us. The effect is that what we take in is what we become . . . When you taste something, you take in a piece of the macrocosm and this substance becomes a part of your body—the instrument with which you have been given to enjoy this beautiful planet we live on . . . Food is a primary aspect of your nourishment, a kind of fertilization process . . .The universe, or Earth, fertilizes you and then you fertilize the world around you. You taste the “moment of transition,” in which the world starts to form you. ‘Tasting’ is living and living is ‘tasting.’” — Watler Shantree Kacera
“Ayurvedic Tongue Diagnosis,” by Walter Shantree Kacera, 2006.