By Anisa Shukla and Tejal Shukla
According to Ayurveda, it is important to taste our foods – Rasa – the Sanskrit word for taste also means experience, enthusiasm, juice, plasma and essence.
Ayurveda recognizes six tastes or rasas, each of which has a vital role to play in our physiology, health, and well-being. Sweet, sour, salty, pungent, bitter, and astringent tastes combine in many different ways to create a diversity of flavors that we encounter throughout our lives.
The sweet taste, as a naturally appealing element of our diets. It is the flavor of sugar that could be found in dates, wheat and fruits. Sweet tastes pacify vata and pitta but aggravate kapha doshas.
The sour taste tends to be fairly familiar to us – it is primarily the result of acids in our foods such as citrus fruits. We often “pucker” when we encounter the sour taste and it immediately moistens the mouth and increases the flow of saliva. The sour taste tends to increase pitta dosha in the body.
The salty taste is almost singularly derived from salt and is readily identified in our diets. We find this taste in fish, soy sauce and celery. The salty taste is said to be heating thus aggravates Kapha dosha.
The pungent taste is one of dry, intense heat that can be found in spicy foods and many herbs and spices. It is usually created by the presence of aromatic garlic and chili that stimulate the tissues and nerve endings of the mouth with a sensation of sharp and fiery heat. The pungent taste can increase pitta and vata dosha but pacify kapha dosha.
The bitter taste is a flavor that is not necessarily something enjoyable, although some people truly enjoy it. For some coffee can be a very enjoyable bitter taste for most along with dark chocolate. The bitter taste can pacify pitta dosha but aggravate vata dosha.
The astringent taste is a flavor of dryness that is generally produced by tannins such as the taste of red wine. It causes the mucus membranes in the mouth to contract and results in an immediate dry, chalky, and sometimes puckering sensation in the mouth. The astringent taste is frequently complemented by the sweet or sour tastes. Finally, this taste can increase vata as it is drying.
Ayurveda teaches us to appreciate that, every substance is made up of a combination of the  basic elements or Panchamahabhutas- Ether, Air, Fire, Water, and Earth. There are 6 tastes according to Ayurveda and these elements in 2 different combinations are present in all of the 6 tastes.
The 6 tastes-sweet, sour, salty, pungent, bitter, and astringent, are based on the actual taste in the mouth. Rasa, means to taste or to experience, “Ra”= taste, and “sa” = juice. This applies to food, herbs and minerals. According to Ayurveda, a balanced meal has a little bit of each rasa. When there is an imbalance of doshas or blockages in channels (srotas), Ayurvedic practitioners recommend a nutrition plan that pays special attention to the 6 tastes. Each taste can either increase or decrease the doshas.
1. Sweet Taste: (madhura) made up of earth and water, its qualities are heavy, cooling and oily. it pacifies vata and pitta but increases kapha. Sweet taste can relieve thirst and burning sensations and is nutritive to the body tissues. The sweet taste from foods for example, like rice, milk wheat and dates can enhance the vital essence of life or Ojas. Other examples or sweet foods are, beans, maple syrup, peas, and sweet potatoes. Psychologically, sweet taste in moderation enhances love and compassion.
2. Sour Taste:(amla) made up of earth and fire, it is sour, acidic, and that which ferments easily. The sour taste decreases vata but increases pitta and kapha. Sour taste is found in foods such as yogurt, vinegar, lemons, fermented foods and sour cream. A small amount of sour taste is refreshing and energizes the body and enlivens the mind.
3. Salty Taste: (lavana) made up of water and fire, it is heating , heavy, oily and hydrophilic in nature. The salty taste decreases vata while increasing pitta and kapha. Just a little bit of salt enhances the taste of food. When used in moderation, salt balances the doshas and it stimulates salivation, aids in digestion, absorption and assimilation. salty taste comes from foods such as, himalayan salt, soy sauce, seaweed, celery. Psycologically, salty taste enhances spirit, and interest.
4. Pungent Taste: (katu) made up of fire and air. It is light drying and heating in nature. It pacifies kapha but increases pitta and vata. When used in moderation, it kindles agni (digestive fire), improves digestion and absorption and cleans the mouth. It can also aid in circulation and helps to eliminate waste products from the body. Psycologically, pungent taste brings enthusiasm, and vitality to the mind. Pungent foods include radishes, onions, ginger, black pepper and chili to name a few.
5. Bitter Taste: (tikta) made up of air and ether, it is cool, light and dry in nature. It increases vata but decreases pitta and kapha. We need all 6 tastes in our diet, but this taste is lacking in the western diet. It is important because bitter taste improves all other tastes. Bitter taste is cleansing, anti-inflammatory and detoxifying, it helps to kindle agni due to its light and dry qualities. Psychologically, bitter taste helps you become more self-aware. Bitter taste can be found in coffee, turmeric, olives, cabbage, grapefruits and green leafy vegetables.
6. Astringent: (kashaya) made up of air and earth elements, it is cooling, drying, and heavy in nature. It reduces both pitta and kapha, but increases vata. The astringent taste improves absorption and creates binding in the stool. Psychologically, astringent taste is supportive and grounding due to the earth element. Helps the mind become collected and organized. The astringent taste can be found in most raw vegetables, raw banana, pomegranate, chickpeas, walnuts, lentils, green beans and sprouts.
Taste can tell us a lot about what we are eating but most important, about the physical and energetic qualities from the universe we are taking into our being.