The Ayurvedic Palate: Including Six Tastes in Your Meal

According to Ayurveda, a balanced meal should include all the six tastes--sweet, salty, sour, bitter, astringent and pungent. In this blog we'll discuss the benefits and drawbacks of each taste and look at how to plan a menu that includes all six tastes for optimum health and nutrition.

The sweet taste is building and nurturing and calms pitta and vata. This does not mean you have to eat a lot of sugar. Many staples such as rice and wheat, as well as vegetables such as sweet potato, provide the sweet taste in your meal. But a hint of intense sweetness, such as a date chutney, can lift the enjoyment of the meal. The sweet taste is not beneficial to kapha, which is why we suggest that kapha individuals limit starchy and sweet foods such as rice, bread and desserts. And ancient Ayurvedic texts point out that excess of the sweet taste is associated with diabetes and obesity. Hence some of us who are blood sugar-challenged may choose to substitute mashed cauliflower for rice.

In the thali pictured above, rice and bottle gourd provide a mild sweetness and apple chutney provides a hint of intense sweetness.

The salty taste is an essential component in giving taste to food and promoting digestion. But ancient Ayurvedic texts suggest that excess salt consumption may be related to aging and cancer. Salt your dishes such as dal, kitcheri, sabji, soup, lightly--just enough to bring out the flavour. Then put a salt shaker on the table for vata. A bit of the salty taste helps vata digestion. But pitta and kapha should stay away from the salt shaker, as the salty taste is injurious for them in excess. In the thali pictured above, the dal and sabji are lightly salted.

The sour taste improves the taste of food, helping us to feel satisfied more easily. It helps kindle the digestive fire and expel gas. When a meal lacks the sour taste, we may eat more, because our senses have not been pacified by the enjoyment of the meal. In Ayurveda we provide the sour taste by using lemon or lime as a seasoning. Tomato is also a source of the sour taste. In addition, vata can eat lime pickles, since the sour taste is good for vata. The sour taste is too hot for pitta and too moist for kapha, so pitta and kapha should not eat strong tomato sauces or a lot of citrus fruits. In the thali above, lemon has been used as a seasoning in the dal. The fruit chutney provides some sourness and so does the home made fresh turmeric pickle, which is marinaded in lime.

The bitter taste is detoxifying, antibacterial, cleansing to the liver and blood. It clears the palate, enhancing the other tastes, and improves digestion. It is the best taste for pitta and kapha.The American and British diets tend to be deficient in the bitter taste, leading us to crave coffee. The bitter taste can be provided by using fenugreek seeds as a seasoning, as well as by including bitter greens in the diet. A special vegetable, bitter melon, also known as karela or bitter gourd, provides plenty of the bitter taste in the meal. In the thali pictured above, Eggplant sabji with bitter melon provides healthy bitterness!

The astringent taste is anti-inflammatory and very good for pitta and kapha. However, it is challenging for vata, which is why astringent foods such as beans and lentils must be well-seasoned with tastes that are good for vata, such as lime, fresh ginger and jaggery (raw sugar). In the thali above, the dal and the fresh turmeric chutney provide astringency.

The pungent taste helps kindle digestion and hence should be included in moderation in every meal, to balance the heaviness of the sweet taste. The use of fresh ginger and mustard seeds as seasonings and the addition of chutneys and pickles to the menu bring the benefit of the pungent taste. Kapha can have a larger spoonful of pungent seasonings since the pungent taste is very good for kapha. In the thali above, the chutneys provide pungency, as does the turmeric pickle, which contains fresh ginger and yellow mustard powder.

Recipes pictured on this thali: Eggplant sabji with bitter melon, Chana Dal Puree with Tender Bottle Gourd Cubes, Turmeric Pickle, Apple Chutney.

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