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Ayurveda's 6 Tastes: Natural Remedies For Holistic Wellness

Written by John Immel, Asheville, NC
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If maintaining a state of holistic wellness is important for you, look to your taste buds first.

Your tongue and taste buds are a precise laboratory for your health. In fact, they helped your ancestors survive in the wild.

Today, we are less attuned to the natural world and more removed from the sources of our food. As a result many people can no longer trust their taste buds.

Processed foods like bread, cheese, and corn syrup bypass their taste buds and trick these folks into eating food that is unhealthy.

Fortunately, Ayurveda can help you restore the integrity of your taste buds so you can once again rely on them to guide you to healthy food choices.

Keep reading to learn how.

The 6 Tastes

Ayurveda identifies the six tastes as sweet, sour, salty, pungent, bitter, and astringent according to how you experience them.

For example, sweet taste is obvious when you enjoy a ripe pear, or sour when you bite into a lemon. In Ayurveda, grains, meat, and all carbohydrates, proteins, and fats are also considered sweet.

Similarly, when you eat a salad made with arugula, take a bite of dark chocolate, or a sip of coffee you will experience bitter. And a steaming bowl of miso soup can teach you about salty.

Instead of defining taste according to our physical experience, Western medicine defines it according to the presence of taste buds.

Researchers have identified taste buds for sweet, sour, salty, bitter, and umami. Scientists are also researching the possibility of the presence of calcium taste buds.

Your daily experience of these tastes drives your cravings and, in turn, your food choices. It also makes your tongue a precise laboratory for discerning either healthy or disease forming food choices.

Taste, Cravings & Creation

Taste is the mother of creation because we are what we eat, and we eat what we crave. As our tastes change, our food choices change.

Tastes are not only on our tongue, but also describe our choices in clothing and home decor. Taste is desire, and good taste is an art.

Similarly, the sexual organs transform desire and preference into fertility; this is why taste, creativity, and sex are all linked in Ayurveda.

Our tastes and lifestyle inform the kind of people we attract.

Tastes, Cravings & Health

Tastes are not in the food you eat, but rather, are on your tongue. And altered taste is one of the first signs of illness and imbalance.

The taste of food may be altered by a fever, or a thick thick tongue coating, for example. In these circumstances, something sweet can taste bitter and undesirable.

Sometimes, the alteration is adaptive - your body is specifically directing you towards foods that can heal the illness.

Other times, the alteration creates false cravings and hunger that do not support health, and this is called "corrupted taste".

Corrupted tastes leads to poor food choices and cravings that do not support health. When taste buds are corrupted cleansing programs can remove toxins from your body and put your constitution back in balance.

Cravings represent your body's best attempt to heal itself.

For example, excess Kapha causes circulation to stagnate, resulting in low energy. Then, Kapha craves sweets for a quick "pick-me-up."

Sweet cravings might have been appropriate for our ancestors in the wilderness but they didn’t have access to excessively sweet and processed foods like ice cream. Instead their sweet cravings caused them to seek out sweet foods that helped them stay nourished and healthy.

In modern society, however, acting on a craving for ice cream only causes more Kapha stagnation and cravings.

Recognizing Your Best Tastes

The tastes you should favor depend on your constitution.

Are you more Vata, Pitta or Kapha? (Take our Free Dosha Quiz to find out!)

Vata refers to all bodily processes that are catabolic, dry out the body, or trigger movement. When out of balance, Vata types tend to be dry, cold and light.

The following tastes help strengthen Vata folks and bring them back into balance:

  • Sweet. Sweet is not just foods with sugary taste. It is any foods that build tissue, including macronutrients such as carbohydrates, proteins and fats. Sweet foods include: meat, nuts and seeds, dairy food and eggs, fruits like bananas and mangoes, grains such as rice or wheat and vegetables like beets, carrots, cucumbers and sweet potatoes.
  • Sour. Sour foods are those that are fermented or acidic like yogurt, wine, beer, miso and pickles. Acidic fruits like citrus and subacidic fruits like peaches are also considered sour, but whereas fermented foods heat the blood, sour fruits cool it.
  • Salty. Salty refers to anything with salt, or high mineral content. Seaweed, black olives, tuna, feta and anchovies are all examples of salty foods, as well as celery, parsley, and nettles.
Pitta describes all bodily processes that are metabolic, generate heat, defend, or regulate. When out of balance, Pitta folks can be hot, inflamed, irritable and angry.

The following tastes help strengthen Pittas and bring them back into balance:

  • Sweet
  • Bitter. Bitter foods stimulate peristalsis and promote the release of bile in the liver and gall bladder. Examples are black coffee, dark chocolate, beer and most salad greens.
  • Astringent. Astringent foods promote constriction, drawing together, or dryness. Eating them makes your mouth feel rough or dry. Leafy greens, green bananas, and cranberries are examples.
Kapha refers to all bodily processes that are anabolic, moisten, nourish, or repair. When out of balance they can become sluggish and depressed.

The following tastes help strengthen Kaphas and bring them back into balance:

  • Pungent. Pungent foods are sharp, spicy and irritate the mouth. Examples include black pepper, chilis and hard liquor. A subtype of pungent is herbs and spices that are strong smelling or aromatic such as peppermint, cardamom, ginger, garlic, thyme or cinnamon.
  • Bitter
  • Astringent

To Learn More, Click on a Taste Below

Tastes & Emotions

Emotions are in the mind, but we express them with our mouths. For example, a smile means we are happy. Tastes are the body’s emotions and are also located in the mouth.

Emotions and tastes can change quickly and unpredictably. An orange that tastes sweet yesterday may taste sour today. Every food has a "taste personality," which takes some time to figure out.

Eating a food every day for two weeks will help you discover the personality of that food in your body.

Tastes & Health

Every taste is associated with a physical and emotional response. Sweet taste causes physical satisfaction and attraction. Bitter taste, on the other hand, causes discomfort and aversion.

Experience of these different tastes, and knowledge of how to interpret them, brings awareness to our food cravings.

A balanced Ayurvedic diet includes all of the six tastes in every meal. However, each individual should adjust the quantity of the tastes for his or her own body.

For example, Kapha should use less sweet taste while Vata and Pitta would benefit from using more sweet taste. A person may have an excess or deficiency of taste which can be detected by an Ayurvedic practitioner in a consultation.

Sacred Cravings

All cravings come from unhealthy or deficient organs.

By understanding taste and the nature of deficiency, we can understand the root of our cravings. When health and desire are one, our cravings become sacred.

How to Understand Food Like an Ayurvedic Counselor: Rasa, Virya & Vipak
An Easy Introduction to an Ayurvedic Diet
Happiness, Ayurveda & the Virtues
Eating for the Season


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About John Joseph Immel

About the Author

John Immel, the founder of Joyful Belly, teaches people how to have a healthy diet and lifestyle with Ayurveda biocharacteristics. His approach to Ayurveda is clinical, yet exudes an ease which many find enjoyable and insightful. John also directs Joyful Belly's School of Ayurveda, offering professional clinical training in Ayurveda for over 15 years.

John's interest in Ayurveda and specialization in digestive tract pathology was inspired by a complex digestive disorder acquired from years of international travel, as well as public service work in South Asia. John's commitment to the detailed study of digestive disorders reflects his zeal to get down to the roots of the problem. His hope and belief in the capacity of each & every client to improve their quality of life is nothing short of a personal passion. John's creativity in the kitchen and delight in cooking for others comes from his family oriented upbringing. In addition to his certification in Ayurveda, John holds a bachelor's degree in mathematics from Harvard University.

John enjoys sharing Ayurveda within the context of his Catholic roots, and finds Ayurveda gives him an opportunity to participate in the healing mission of the Church. Jesus expressed God's love by feeding and healing the sick. That kindness is the fundamental ministry of Ayurveda as well. Outside of work, John enjoys spending time with his wife and 7 kids, and pursuing his love of theology, philosophy, and language.

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