Tastes in Ayurveda have a prominent role in the digestive and metabolic processes (Vipaka) of an individual. Digestion of heavy tastes needs more energy generation, while lighter tastes can be easily assimilated. According to Ayurveda, each of the food items contains a particular taste or ‘Rasa’ that is correlated to its digestive action. The different tastes have a connection with the balance of elements like space, air, fire, water and earth. These tastes are not a mere coincidence, but it is a direct manifestation of biochemical traits of the food which therefore reveals its pharmaceutical properties.
Types of tastes in Ayurveda
Ayurveda identifies six types of tastes namely; Madhura Rasa or sweet taste, Amla Rasa or sour taste, Lavana Rasa or salty taste , Katu Rasa or pungent taste, Tikta Rasa or bitter taste and Kashava Rasa or astringent Taste.
Madhura Rasa or Sweet Taste: The sweet taste consists primarily of water element and secondarily earth element. The foods with sweet taste help to build body tissue. The taste has a stabilizing, tonifying and calming effect. Sweets contribute in mucus formation, congestion and coughs. Sweets can be soothing where there is problem with fire elements. Consumption of excessive sweets result in obesity, diabetes, emotional immaturity, laziness, etc.
Amla Rasa or Sour Taste: The sour taste is hot in nature and elevates predominantly the fire elements and secondarily the earth elements. The sour taste enhances salivation, thereby promoting digestion. Amla Rasa or sour taste adds taste to food. It increases appetite. It remarkably lessens anorexia or lack of appetite. It gives relief by releasing gas from the system. It serves as an anti-coagulant also. However excess of sour taste can aggravate thirst and cause a burning sensation in the throat region. Too much of sour food invites diseases like anaemia, haemorrhage, vertigo and myopic vision. Nevertheless, sour taste endows one with the mental-power of good intellect and sharp wit. Sour taste is found in fruits, fermented food or organic acid.
Lavana Rasa or Salty Taste: According to Ayurveda, salt has many beneficial effects. It elevates all types of elements except the air element. Salts mainly assist in digestion and circulation. Salt enhances the fluid content of the body by increasing saliva and diluting the phlegm. Salty foods help to open up blocked channels. Lavana or Salt Taste renders food as tasty. It stimulates the flow of gastric juices. Abundant salt usage negatively precipitates premature aging, hair loss, heaviness and gastric disorders. Ayurveda considers it responsible for nurturing deep uncontrollable desires.
Katu Rasa or Pungent Taste: Pungent taste is present mainly in spices and herbs. These types of foods are light, hot and dry. Earth type of element is associated with the pungent food. Pungent foods also elevate air and fire types of elements. Hot spices have many beneficial effects, which come from the pungent taste of the food. The burning sensation of pungent tastes makes one thirsty. It activates the bodily fluids like saliva, sweat, tears, mucus and blood. This inevitably accelerates digestion. Plenty of spice leaves one with swollen lips, burning skin and frantic thirst.
Tikta Rasa or Bitter Taste: Bitter taste is the enhancer for the fire elements and reduces the excess of other elements. Bitter foods reduce fat, flesh and marrow and thereby have a slimming effect. These types of foods have a detoxifying property. It removes poison from blood and other body fluid. Bitter substances are also beneficial in skin problems or wounds. But bitterness in diet should be in proportion. Else it might lead to weight-loss, dry skin or headaches.
Kashava Rasa or Astringent Taste: Astringent tastes are caused due to presence of tannin. Such foods act on air and have slightly anabolic effect. Astringent foods have haemostatic and vulnerary properties. Kashava Rasa or Astringent taste acts as a perfect cooling agent. It stops the secretion of sweat and tears. The light taste induces fantastic sleep. It assists in granulation and absorption. But the awkward feeling of tastelessness and stiffness are its drawbacks. It subdues anxiety and stress.
Ayurvedic dietary prescription calls for a proper proportion of every taste in preparations of food for getting a healthy diet.