According to the tradition of Ayurveda, it is essential to fully taste and experience the food we eat, the herbal remedies we take and even the smallest moments of our lives. Ideally, our meals would include all six of the Rasas. Unfortunately, getting a full range of the six tastes every day can be difficult, especially when traveling, eating out at restaurants or cooking without knowing the principles of Ayurveda. A good way to begin understanding how important the experience of taste is in Ayurveda is to learn about Rasa.
In Sanskrit, Rasa can be generally translated as the word for taste. But like with many words in the Sanskrit language, Rasa has several other meanings: juice, eagerness, experience and lifeblood.
Rasa is, figuratively and literally, our lifeblood (hence Rasa Dhatu). Rasa affects every aspect of who and what we are: our mind, body and spirit. Each taste also affects all three of our Doshas (Vata, Pitta and Kapha). Ayurveda considers taste (Rasa) not just something to be enjoyed when we eat, but also something to be used as a tool for healing. Rasa is the seasoning of our lives! If you have worked with an Ayurvedic practitioner before or if you are one yourself, you already know that taste is essential in determining the effect that different foods, spices, herbal remedies, and life experiences will have on us.
The sweet taste decreases Vata and Pitta and increases Kapha. It is made up of the water and earth elements and is the most nourishing, calming and grounding of the Rasas. It's attributes are heavy, oily and moist, so if you are trying to gain weight this is the taste to emphasize in your diet. Wheat, dairy, rice, some cereals, dates, pumpkins, root vegetables and maple syrup are examples of sweet foods. When the sweet taste is consumed in balanced and moderate amounts, it supports a long life, physical and mental strength and healthy bodily fluids and tissues.
The sour taste decreases Vata and increases Pitta and Kapha. It is made up of the water and fire elements and can stimulate a weak appetite. It is light, heating and oily and can strengthen digestion and detoxification. However, it should be eaten carefully in moderation because if too much sour is eaten it can quickly create imbalances in the body and mind. Pickled and fermented food, wine, lemon and vinegar are all examples of sour foods.
The salty taste decreases Vata and increases Pitta and Kapha. It is made up of the earth and fire elements. Those who have Vata dominant in their constitution or have excess Vata Dosha should emphasize the salty taste because of its hydrating and grounding qualities. However, it's fire element increases Pitta, so use in moderation, especially in warmer months. Salt adds a good flavor to food, strengthens digestion, cleanses the tissues of the body and increases the body's ability to absorb minerals. Sea salt, black olives, seaweed and tamari are all examples of salty foods.
The pungent taste increases Vata and Pitta and decreases Kapha. It is made up of the fire and air elements primarily. It is also the most heating of all the Rasas. It increases digestion and appetite, clears the sinuses, detoxifies the tissues and stimulates blood circulation. However, too much of the pungent Rasa quickly aggravates Pitta. Pungent is best eaten with sour, sweet or salty food.
The bitter taste increases Vata and decreases Pitta and Kapha. It is made up of the air and space elements. It is the coolest and the lightest of all of the Rasas. It detoxifies the body and promotes strong mental attitudes. Bitter foods include turmeric, green and black teas and raw, green vegetables.
The astringent taste increases Vata and decreases Pitta and Kapha. It is made up of the air and earth elements. Beans and legumes are examples of foods that are astringent. Astringency can cause gas when consumed in too large of quantities, so those with Vata predominant in their constitution should eat the astringent taste in moderation, while Pitta and Kapha types should typically emphasize astringency. Green grapes, okra and alfalfa sprouts are other examples of astringent foods.
Each of these six have a part in our in our physiology and health and can be combined in endless ways, which you may already know if you are familiar with cooking with a variety of spices and foods. But there are even more factors to take into consideration when thinking about what you consume. For example, cumin seed harvested in one part of the world under certain conditions can taste completely different from cumin seed grown in another area. The taste and quality of foods and spices depends on where and when it is grown and harvested, how it is stored or preserved, if and how it is processed and how old it is. Taste holds a great deal of information, not only about what we’re eating and drinking, but also about the energetic qualities we’re taking in as well.
Ayurveda teaches us to use taste to support overall healing by adapting our cooking, eating and lifestyle habits according to what we learn.
The six tastes also contain all five elements, but each taste is predominantly composed of just two elements.
|Madhura (Sweet)||Earth & Water|
|Amla (Sour)||Earth & Fire|
|Lavana (Salty)||Water & Fire|
|Katu (Pungent)||Fire & Air|
|Tikta (Bitter)||Air & Ether|
Air & Earth
As with most things in Ayurveda, the combination of tastes (herbs, spices and foods) that are right for you depends on your constitution, your current state of imbalance, how old you are and where you live. While we need each of the tastes in our daily lives, how much we need of each is determined by the uniqueness of the individual and can change over time. A balanced diet has an appropriate quantity of each of the six tastes, according to the Prakriti (constitution), Vikriti (current state) and season.
Understanding the many intricacies of the six tastes and the ways that affect our physiology may seem daunting, even to those who have been studying Ayurveda for some time. But using Rasa as a healing tool can quickly become a natural and easily-implemented aspect of your life with a bit of practice.
If you don’t know your constitution or if you have not recently assessed your current state of balance and want to know more about how to support healing with Rasa, please contact us to set up a consultation with one of our experienced affiliated Ayurvedic practitioners.