Ayurvedic Diet – Tastes
The most important aspect of Ayurvedic diet next to ‘agni’ (fire) is ‘rasa’.
The first interaction of a food or herb with the body begins with the tongue and the sense of taste, called ‘ rasa’ in Sanskrit. ‘Rasa’ is the key to understand Ayurvedic nutrition as well as pharmacology because the ayurvedic principle of the six tastes governs the science of Ayurvedic diet and herbal formulation as well. Taste is second only to water, the element without which taste would not exist ( if tongue is dry it cannot taste).
Taste buds are important for maintaining our health. Western medicine defines taste according to the presence of taste buds. Researchers have identified taste buds for sweet, sour, salty, bitter, and umami. Several scientists are researching the presence of calcium taste buds as well. Their presence is confirmed in mice.
On the contrary, Ayurveda is an experience based medicine and so the tastes have been described according to the physical experience. One who is aware of his/her senses can choose the tastes according to need. On Ayurveda’s path of self-healing, the six tastes are a way to keep your senses alert and explore foods and herbs that will balance your body and mind. Learning how to taste not only the foods in your diet, but your life experiences and how the universe works is yet another practice of Ayurveda that teaches us how to become more self-aware, bringing about true healing
These days, many people distrust their taste buds. Processed foods like bread, cheese, and corn syrup bypass and trick our taste buds into eating food that is unhealthy. However, taste buds also helped our ancestors survive in the wild and our tongue is a precise laboratory for our health.
Food cravings and emotions
As our tastes change, our food choices change. Taste is the mother of creation because we are what we eat, and we eat what we crave. 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 and sex are linked in Ayurveda. Our tastes and lifestyle inform what kind of people we attract.
Learning how to take foods and herbs that possess the qualities we need to balance our bodies can also be expanded into the psychological realm. It is important to note the experiences in our lives that are sweet and nourishing, or if a relationship creates a bitter feeling or leaves a sour taste in our mouths. Our emotional thoughts and experiences have an even more profound effect on our health and well-being than does food.Emotions are in the mind but we express them with our mouths. A smile means we are happy. Tastes are the emotions of the body 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. Generally eating a food daily for two weeks will help you discover the personality of the food in your body. It’s a very interesting fact that the word ‘Rasa’ in Sanskrit has 2 meanings namely taste and emotion. It is a well known fact that we invariably have food (tastes) according to our emotions. Our emotions dominate what sort of tastes we crave for.
Ayurveda describes six tastes by which all foods and herbs can be generally categorized. They are: sweet, sour, salty, bitter, pungent, and astringent. Each of these tastes has a direct energetic effect on digestion creating either a heating or cooling sensation. This action on the digestive system called ‘Virya’ may be felt immediately after tasting a food or sometimes later. By understanding the way that the tastes affect the three doshas one can choose foods and herbs that will create balance and healing for one’s individual constitution.
Every taste is made up of some combination of the five elements, earth, water, fire, air, and ether. The six tastes have certain qualities, or gunas, that are attributes of their two primary elements.
Tastes and health
One of the first signs of illness is altered taste. Altered taste leads to poor food choices and cravings. The key to balancing the body with the six tastes is choosing foods and herbs that have the opposite qualities of the doshic imbalance.
According to Ayurveda, all 6 tastes should be eaten at every meal to balance your body, eliminate cravings and help you lose or gain weight as desired. Not eating full complement can cause cravings and result in obesity/deficiency. We are what we eat and we eat what we crave.
Each individual should adjust the amount of each taste according to his body type. The body naturally desires the tastes that balance its doshic makeup and shuns taste of an aggravating nature. If we simply follow our natural inclination we are led to proper foods.
Its not a daunting task to include all 6 tastes. Adding a squeeze of lemon to our dishes satisfies sour taste while adding a salad will fulfill bitter and astringent tastes.
According to Ayurveda, it is advisable to eat foods with Madhura taste (sweet) in the beginning of the meal, as this taste is heavy and dense in nature and takes more time to get digested. When we start eating, our digestive fire is powerful and the body will be able to digest these foods more easily.After that other tastes should follow in the order of Amla(sour),Lavana(salty),Katu(pungent),Tikta
(bitter)and Kashaya (astringent). At the end of your meal, it is advisable to take a very small piece of sweet (preferably jaggery) in order to satiate your senses.
This order should only be followed by healthy individuals in whom digestive fire (metabolism) is good. When the fire is low the number of tastes to be consumed and the order will change.