“You can’t buy happiness but you can buy ice cream and that’s kind of the same thing.”
“That left a bad taste in my mouth.”
These quotes give us a feel for how food and its varied tastes can influence us.
Ayurveda teaches us that we should strive for a balance of six tastes—sweet, sour, salty, pungent, bitter, and astringent. Eating a balanced, nutritious amount of all six tastes is one of the most important things we can do to maintain well-being.
The Six Tastes & Their Corresponding Balanced and Imbalanced Characteristics
Each of the six tastes have corresponding balanced and imbalanced characteristics.
- Sweet. Balanced: satisfied, fulfilled, content
- Sour. Balanced: discerning, aware, insightful
- Salty. Balanced: desire, joie de vivre, passionate
- Pungent. Balanced: extroverted, driven, ambitious
- Bitter. Balanced: level-headed, dynamic, focused
- Astringent. Balanced: introspective, lucid, composed
IMBALANCED DUE TO LACK OF THE SIX TASTES
- Sweet. Imbalanced: unsatisfied, discontented.
- Sour. Imbalanced: impulsive, scattered.
- Salty. Imbalanced: indolent, indifferent, hesitant.
- Pungent. Imbalanced: avoidant, passive
- Bitter. Imbalanced: grief, despondent.
- Astringent. Imbalanced: brain fog, obtuse.
IMBALANCED DUE TO EXCESS OF THE SIX TASTES
- Sweet. Imbalanced: lazy, apathetic, complacent.
- Sour. Imbalanced: overly critical, judgmental.
- Salty. Imbalanced: controlled by senses, overly self-indulgent.
- Pungent. Imbalanced: angry, combative, aggressive.
- Bitter. Imbalanced: bitter, pessimistic, jaded.
- Astringent. Imbalanced: overly sensitive, fearful, spaced out, anxious.
If you find yourself feeling imbalanced any time of the year, one way to recalibrate yourself is with the foods you eat and by applying opposite tastes.
For example, if you find yourself feeling imbalanced in winter, it is likely that you will benefit from eating vata’s opposite tastes.
Vata season is winter. Its associated tastes are bitter, astringent, pungent—when referring to dryness. Bring vata into balance with sweet, sour, salty. Think warming and calming.
Pitta season is summer. Its associated tastes are sour, salty, pungent. Bring pitta into balance with sweet, bitter, astringent. Think cooling.
Kapha season is spring. Its associated tastes are sweet, sour, salty. Bring kapha into balance with pungent, bitter astringent. Think heating and stimulating.
Foods Corresponding to the Six Tastes
This list provides for a variety of examples for each taste.
SWEET: grains, dairy (cheese can be sour), sweet fruits, sugar, honey, maple syrup, wheat, fruit juices, beets, cucumber, potato, saffron, most nuts, ghee
SOUR: sour cream, yogurt, vinegar, cheese, sour fruits, fermented foods, pickles, wine, tamarind
SALTY: salts, seaweed, kelp
PUNGENT: onion, radish, chili peppers, black pepper, cayenne pepper, garlic, asafoetida, wasabi, horseradish, radish
BITTER: bitter melon, coffee, neem, sandalwood, bitter greens such as dandelion, dark leafy greens, bitter herbs such as goldenseal & gentian, fenugreek, tonic water, caffeine
ASTRINGENT: turmeric, black tea, lettuce, apple, pomegranate, okra, unripe banana, chick peas, split yellow peas, alfalfa sprouts and other sprouts, lentils, leafy greens, pomegranate, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, celery, spinach
“When you eat standing up, death looks over your shoulder.”
What, When, and How
While what we eat is important, when we eat and how we eat are equally salient points to cover.
This very straightforward Ayurvedic saying really hits home, “When you eat standing up, death looks over your shoulder.”
Eating on the run or chewing food too fast inhibits proper digestion and assimilation of nutrients. Eating while distracted or during a heated conversation can result in a recipe for disastrous digestion as well.
Favor sitting in a calm environment, chew your food well, and pay attention to its tastes, smells, and textures. The general rule of thumb is that lunch should be the biggest meal of the day, supper being a lighter supplement that holds you over until you break-fast in the morning. Breakfast is a moderate meal—just enough to hold you over until lunch.
Give thanks when you eat and make your meal a mouth-watering meditation!