The Six Tastes of Ayurveda and Simple Tips for Adapting Your Activities and Your Meals to the Seasons and the Time of Day by Sharon Harvey Alexander, C-IAYT
The ancient science of ayurveda explains how our lifestyle influences our health. It also describes six tastes by which all foods may be categorized.
These tastes are: Sweet, Sour, Salty, Bitter, Pungent, and Astringent.
When each one of them is present in the meals we consume, the combination of these tastes is what leaves us feeling satisfied.
If, for too long, a certain taste goes missing, we may be left with the feeling of “wanting” or craving more than we really need. This is because of Rasa - our elemental nature – which the ancients trace to what we are (or are not) putting into our bodies.
Seasons call forth specific tastes, too.
While it’s best to consume every taste each day, as mentioned above, in the summer we are called to favor the sweet, bitter, and astringent tastes because of their effect in the body. Summer is also a time to enjoy more cool, liquid, even slightly oily foods.
Consuming what’s in season, this is the time of year to partake of sweet berries and luscious green salads. And it’s also wonderful to indulge in the sweet taste of dairy products, if tolerated by your unique constitution. Enjoying an ice cream or gelato on occasion is warranted, because the heat of the season warms up your digestive fire, too, so there may be less trouble with these foods now. The key is to not overindulge. And to seek balance whenever possible.
Too much “fire” and you run the risk of burning things down. Not enough fire – as in a fire that has been put out by heavy, cold, damp food or drink – is equally problematic. It’s wise to pay attention to your digestive fire, as things may go awry as a result of too much or too little heat at this time of the year. I call this the act of cultivating balance, or “the Goldilocks’ Principle”. We want things to be “just right”.
Rasa is the Sanskrit word for taste. It might also be translated as “sap”, “essence”, and “fluid”. Rasa is the most subtle form of our physical being; that which we nourish through food and drink. By virtue of its subtle nature, it is the first of the dhatus, or levels of well-being, to go out of whack. This happens through incongruous lifestyle practices.
On a spiritual level, rasa - or taste - refers to the essence of the human experience; the energy of human emotion that directly affects one’s spiritual and physical health.
It is a generalization to say that foods and drink with heating qualities stimulate rasa, while foods with cooling qualities dull it. But for our purposes, this analogy is o.k. Refer back to the “Goldilock’s principle”. “Rasa”, or taste, influences the essence of who we are. Doesn’t it make sense, then, that the foods we eat, and how we enjoy our meals, has the potential to elevate the quality of our life?
I find this to be a powerful concept. How ‘bout you? The practice of Ayurveda is built upon the theory that we are a part of nature. As such, we are comprised of the elements that are found all around us. They are in our food, too. Just like “nature” does, we benefit from attending to the changing qualities that each season brings.
We may adapt or adjust our diet and lifestyle by consciously preparing and consuming various foods at different times of year. In the summer, the qualities of heat, light, and activity predominate. It is a time of vigorous growth in the plant world, and the longer daylight hours offer us plenty of opportunity to be outdoors, playing under the sun. Summer is considered the pitta season in North America. Due to an Ayurvedic principle that “opposites foster balance”, we are wise to cool things down as the environment around us begins to heat up.
In Colorado, warm summer temperatures and our high altitude combine to heat up the environment around us, and to dry things out. As a result, joint pain, skin irritations, digestion challenges, and irritability - to name just a few of the draw backs of an elevated pitta dosha - may also increase. The good news is that nature provides us with wonderful remedies, too.
For example, Aloe Vera is often used to soothe sunburned skin. Did you know that it is also beneficial in relieving heartburn, deterring the growth of harmful bacteria, and relieving bleeding or swollen gums? It influences blood sugar levels, aids digestion, and may also be used as a laxative. Of course, one would always want to check with their doctor before trying a new or unusual remedy like this for the first time, but this is one example of how we can use natural remedies to soothe seasonal imbalances.
Other delicious ways to handle summer’s heat include crafting soothing beverages including sun tea made with rooibos and mint leaves, or adding cucumber or rose petals to your water. The practice of ayurveda suggests consuming room temperature or cool, but not cold, beverages in order to maintain Agni, an efficient digestive fire. There are many foods and spices that have a cooling effect, too. Some of them include watery fruits like watermelon, cucumbers, and coconuts. Fennel and coriander (or cilantro) are cooling spices, and avocados, jicama, and pomegranates can be delightful to consume now, as well.
If all of this seems a bit overwhelming… yet you’re interested in upping your game, and believe that eating wisely and in tune with the seasons might help, please consider scheduling a private appointment with me. I can determine your unique wellness constitution, and together we can assess what YOU need, as an individual with sublime and beautiful traits.
Taking time now to consider how you might establish a pitta pacifying summer seasonal routine, before the hot weather really settles in for a few months, is wise. Using actions to cool and calm your diet and your lifestyle will pay dividends later. If you want to sleep well, enjoy pleasant interactions with others, and feel comfortable all season long, implementing a few simple changes this summer may help to prevent the over-accumulation of heat in the body, mind, and emotions. The result may be an elevated ability to more comfortably enjoy the wonderful gifts that summertime has to offer.
Thank you for reading. I'd love to hear your thoughts on what I've written here. And any ideas you have for cooling the flames of summer... Please leave a comment below.
May this season, and every season, unfold with increasing levels of joy and harmony for you, and the world around you.
Summarizing the Actions and Sources of the Six Tastes
Taste Primary Actions Common Sources
Sweet Builds tissues, calms nerves. Fruit, grains, natural sugars, milk.
Sour Cleanses tissues, increases absorption of minerals. Sour fruits, yogurt, fermented foods.
Salty Improves taste to food, lubricates tissues, stimulates digestion. Natural salts, sea vegetables.
Bitter Detoxifies and lightens tissues. Dark leafy greens, herbs and spices.
Pungent Stimulates digestion and metabolism. Chili peppers, garlic, herbs and spices.
Astringent Absorbs water, tightens tissues, dries fats. Legumes, raw fruits and vegetables, herbs.
Balancing the Doshas Through Taste
Most Balancing Most Aggravating
Vata Sweet, Sour, Salty Bitter, Pungent, Astringent
Pitta Sweet, Bitter, Astringent Sour, Salty, Pungent
Kapha Pungent, Bitter, Astringent Sweet, Sour, Salty