6 Tastes in Ayurveda
Role of Taste
It is as important to realize that every food’s unique combination of attributes will influence its taste and the action it causes in the body. With every taste having a different action – as detailed below. Astanga Hrdayam clearly describes the characteristics of each of the six tastes and problems that might be experienced from its habitual over-consumption. Most foods being a combination of two or more of these tastes e.g. coffee is bitter and pungent.
Comprised of the elements earth & fire, it increases pitta and kapha and is good for heart and digestion. Stimulates agni, moves inactive Vata energy down the pelvic cavity, sets the teeth on edge and increases salivation. Excess use may cause looseness and flabbiness,loss of strength, giddiness, itching, irritation, a whitish yellow pallor, swelling, thirsts and fever, and diseases arising from excess pitta and kapha.
Related to earth & water, it increases pitta and vata, producing greater strength in the tissues and value to the aged, wounded, emaciated and children. Universally liked, it often adheres to the inside of the mouth, giving a feeling of pleasure, contentment and comfort. Good for the complexion, hair, senses and oja, it also increases breast milk and helps unite broke parts like bones. By its virtue it prolongs life and helps life activities. In excess however it may cause diseases arising from fat and excess kapha e.g. obesity, skin infections, unconsciousness, diabetes, enlargement of neck glands or malignant tumors etc.
The water & fire in salty taste increases pitta and kapha. It clears obstruction of channels and pores and increases the digestive activity and salivation. Also responsible for lubrication and sweating, it penetrates the tissues. An excess of it may cause baldness and graying of the hair, wrinkles, thirst, skin diseases, blood disorders and loss of body strength.
Fire & air in pungent increases vata and pitta and mitigates kapha. Increases hunger, is digestive, causes irritation, brings secretion from the eyes, nose & mouth, and gives a burning sensation to the mouth. It dilates the channels and breaks up the hard masses. But an excess use of it may cause thirst, depletion of reproductive tissue and strength, fainting, contracture, tremors, pain in the waist and back, and other disorders related to excess of pitta and kapha.
Air & space being its elements, it increases pitta and kapha. Drying up moisture from fat, muscles, faces and urine. It cleans the mouth and destroys the perception of taste. It is said to cure anorexia, worms, bacteria, parasites, thirst, skin diseases, loss of consciousness, fever, nausea, burning sensation. But in excess, it increases vata, causing diseases of vata origin and depletion of tissues.
Air & earth increases vata and controls increased pitta and kapha. It cleans the blood and causes healing of ulcers. Like bitter, it too dries up moisture from fat. It absorbs water, causing constipation and hindering digestion of undigested food. Its excess use causes stasis of foodwithout digestion, flatulence, pain in the cardiac region, emaciation, loss of virility, obstruction of channels and constipation.
BALANCING SEASONAL TASTES AND BODY TYPE TASTES
The apparent contradictions between the tastes and qualities beneficial to each body type, and the tastes and qualities suggested by the cyclical nature of the seasons are to be understood in the following way: The tastes which are generally good for each body type may become heightened or prevalent in the body and external environment due to seasonal influences. For example, of the six tastes, the pungent flavour naturally predominates during the summer; although considered a generally good all-year taste for Kapha types, it needs to be used in the summer season with discretion. This is because in summer the pungent taste prevails out of the six tastes.(According to the seasonal accumulation of the doshas, in
summers there is decrease of kapha and the pungent taste also causes decrease in kapha and increase of vata which may lead to vata/kapha disorders) Similarly, the salty taste which predominates during autumn, although considered a generally
excellent all-year taste for Vata types, needs to be reduced during the autumn season, even by Vata types (According to the seasonal accumulation of the doshas in autumn there is alleviation of pitta, the salty taste also causes alleviation of pitta which may lead to pitta disorders). In the early winter, the sweet taste predominates, and although generally an excellent all-year taste for Pitta types, needs to be reduced during the early winter, even by Pitta types. (According to the seasonal accumulation of the doshas in winter there is increase in kapha and sweet taste also causes increase of kapha which may lead to kapha disorders)
This can get confusing. The original texts say nothing of Vata, Pitta and Kapha diet plans so this is why understanding the details is so important. Just following a vata, pitta or kapha diet plan, as is being touted as ayurveda in the west, is extremely dangerous. Treatment based on lack of information of the above is equally as dangerous. This is why in the beginning of each classic texts it explains the seasons as part of the fundamental understanding of the big picture of ayurveda.