The Six Tastes (Rasa)
All foods have some Taste. Charaka has categorized these tastes into six: Sweet, Sour, Salty, Bitter, Pungent & Astringent. Each taste has its own elemental composition and unique properties through which it affects the doshas and the tissue systems. Foods can have one of these tastes, or a combination of two or more of the tastes at the same time.
- Sweet Taste – The Sweet taste is dominated by the earth and waters element. Due to the relative heaviness of these elements, foods with a sweet taste have a downward movement in the body. Its qualities are unctuous (meaning moist), cooling and heavy. It calms Vata and Pitta and aggravates Kapha. It nourishes all the seven tissue systems, and is good for the hair, skin and throat. The sweet taste increases strength, vitality and satisfaction. It can help to heal wounds and also help to repair fractures if taken in the appropriate quantities.
If the sweet Taste is consumed in excess quantities, then it causes obesity, lethargy, lack of appetite, cough, cold and asthma, diabetes and more. Examples of the sweet taste include – Sugar and sugary foods, milk, sweet fruits, rice, wheat, licorice, asparagus, almonds and more.
- Sour Taste – The sour taste is predominantly composed of the earth and Fire elements. Its movement is both upwards (due to fire) and downward (due to earth) in the body. It is light, hot and unctuous. It calms Vata, but aggravates kapha and Pitta. If taken in moderation it acts as an appetizer and kindles the digestive fire. It strengthens the heart, aids in passing accumulated gases in the intestines, aids digestion, and stimulates salivation.
If taken in excess the sour taste causes sensitive teeth, involuntary closure of eye lids, hyperacidity, heart burn, and edema, or swelling, especially in emaciated individuals. The sour taste aggravates Pitta and also aggravates the blood, causing skin diseases, like boils, eczema, and dermatitis, and it also promotes infection in wounds. Examples of foods rich in Sour taste include – Citrus fruits, tamarind, raw mango, vinegar, sour cream, grapes, lemon and more.
- Salty Taste – The salty taste is predominantly composed of the water and fire elements. Its movement is also both upwards (due to fire) and downwards (due to water). It is a bit heavy, unctuous and hot in its properties. It calms Vata, and aggravates both Pitta and Kapha. In moderation the salty taste relieves Vata in general and accumulated gases in the colon in particular, relieving pain and spasm. It aids in the expulsion of mucous from the respiratory tract and stools from the large intestine. The salty taste purifies the fluid channels of the body, and is important for the electrolyte balance of the body. It relieves spasm of the muscles and body pains and makes body parts supple. It induces salivation and makes the food tasty, so it is an appetizer and digestive. The salty taste dominates all other tastes and makes them palatable.
If taken in excess, the salt taste causes wrinkling, premature greying of the hair and also hair loss. It depletes the reproductive tissue, weakens the sense organs, causes burning, excessive thirst, and acidity. The salty taste in excess also aggravates the blood, causing bleeding tendencies, hypertension, gout and skin diseases. Examples of the salty taste: Any kind of salt, as well as kelp and some tofu.
- Pungent Taste – The pungent taste is dominated by the Fire and Air elements. Due to the upward going nature of the two, the movement of pungent taste is also upwards. It has properties of lightness, heat and dryness. The pungent taste aggravates Vata and Pitta, and calms Kapha. In moderation it promotes salivation, nasal secretions and tears and thereby helps in cleansing the mouth cavity, sinuses, and eyes. It aids circulation, clears blockages, helps sense organ to perceive better, relieves severe flatulence, edema, and excessive oilyness. The pungent taste can also help a person to lose weight.
Too much of the pungent taste can deplete and destroy the reproductive tissue causing ovulation failure, low sperm count and sexual debility. Because it aggravates Pitta, the pungent taste can also cause vertigo, fainting episodes, thirst, burning, and peptic ulcers . Due to its aggravation of Vata, too much pungent taste can cause giddiness, nausea, tremors, pricking and tearing pains in the extremities, sides and back. Examples of pungent foods include – peppers, ginger, onion, garlic, mustard, rye and more.
- Bitter Taste – The Bitter taste has a dominance of the Air and Space elements. Naturally, the air and space elements cause the bitter taste to have the quality of upward movement. The bitter taste is dry, cold and light by nature. It calms Pitta and Kapha but aggravates Vata. Though by nature bitter is sometimes unpalatable, if taken it can cure anorexia, remove toxins and parasites, and help with itching, skin diseases, thirst and fainting. The bitter taste also purifies the milk of lactating mothers. It brings down fever, and makes the skin firm by working on excessive oiliness and fat . It cuts down on excessive fat and is drying in nature and thus reducing lymphatic edema, and pus formation.
In excess the bitter taste depletes all the tissue systems, produces dryness in all the body channels, reduces strength, causes emaciation, weakens the heart, and generally produces dryness and roughness. Examples of the bitter taste include- Bitter gourd, bitter melon, Neem, turmeric, Fenugreek seeds, aloe vera, coffee, and more.
- Astringent Taste – The Astringent taste is dominated by the Air and earth elements. Its movement is both upwards and downwards. It is cooling, dry and heavy by nature. It calms Kapha and Pitta and aggravates Vata. It helps in the healing of wounds and promotes clotting. By its nature the astringent taste depletes all the tissues and produces roughness in the channels. It absorbs water and causes dryness of the mouth and throat. The astringent taste is a blood purifier.
In excess the astringent taste may cause choking, constipation, severe flatulence, heart spasm, and stagnation of body fluids. It can cause excessive thirst, lack of virility due to aggravation of Vata and may also cause Bell’s Palsy, hemiplegia or paralysis, lock jaw and other neuro- muscular disorders.
Examples of the astringent taste include: unripe banana, cranberry, pomegranate, black plum, beans and more.
Ayurveda says that all the six tastes are to be judiciously used in our meals so as to keep all the tissue systems, body channels and doshas in balance so that we can be our healthiest and happiest.