Rasa: The Six Tastes of Ayurveda
The main goal of Ayurveda is to keep your body balanced. Taste, or in Sanskrit, Rasa, is the key to understanding basic ayurvedic nutrition. Taste influences certain foods in a positive or negative way, which also aids in digestion. Rasa is the immediate taste on the tongue, the one that is remembered, and helps to influence the body. Taste is made from the five elements that comprise the doshas — ether, air, fire, earth and water. A rasa can be sweet, sour, salty, pungent, bitter or astringent. There are six rasas and each one directly influences Vata, Pitta and Kapha.
Each taste has a long term effect on our metabolism and once digestion is over, all the nutrients are officially absorbed into our bodies. This effect is known as vipak which is sweet, sour or pungent. The vipak, sweet, is nutritive and building. The sour vipak enhances digestive fire and the pungent vipak creates increased elimination. So let’s explain the six rasas in further detail:
Madhura (sweet) – decreases Vata and Pitta, increases Kapha
Of all the rasas, sweet is the most grounding and nourishing. It balances with Vata and Pitta and when eaten in moderation, it promotes longevity, strength and healthy bodily fluids, as well as healthy tissue. Remember, the sweet rasa is heavy, oily, moist and tends to slow down digestion. This is why in excess it increases Kapha and weight gain, which is why Ayurveda often suggests that dessert is eaten first. The sweet taste is usually found in wheat, rice, maple syrup, agave nectar, licorice root and slippery elm bark.
Lavana (salty) – decreases Vata, increases Pitta and Kapha
Salt has a heating virya and a sweet vipak, like sweet — it’s grounding and moistening. Kapha is attracted to the warmth of salty flavors, although it promotes water retention and weight gain. It stimulates digestion and helps maintain proper electrolyte balance as well as softens the tissue in our bodies and has a mild laxative effect — if taken in moderation. You can find the salty rasa in black olives, processed foods, salt, tamari and sea vegetables.
Amla (sour) – decreases Vata, increases Pitta and Kapha
Appetite stimulation and saliva production are staples of the sour rasa. It is recommended to eat in moderation, it’s refreshing nature can be a very strong influence in overindulgence. Sour balances Vata, but tends to unbalance Pitta with heat and can suffocate Kapha with its slippery, grounding nature. You can find the sour rasa in lemons, amla berry, and vinegars.
Katu (pungent) – increases Vata and Pitta, decreases Kapha
Pungent rasa is heating making it the hottest of all the rasas. It clears the sinuses, stimulates blood circulation, improves appetite and motivates your senses. It stays hot from start to finish, meaning it benefits Kapha more than Vata. It has light and dry qualities which aggravates Pitta. It can be too hot and dry for Vata. If you’re a Vata and want to indulge in Katu, combine the taste with sour, sweet, or salty foods. You can find the pungent rasa in mustard, garlic, onions or hot peppers.
Tikta (bitter) – increases Vata, decreases Pitta and Kapha
Bitter is the coolest and lightest of the rasas, as air and ether make up its form. It best suits Pitta, although Kapha can also benefit from Tikta. The bitter taste provides calming magnesium and calcium, which can be found in dark leafy greens. Remember to avoid indulging in the bitter rasa, it’s known that the coldness can bring on bouts of grief and depression. Used in small amounts it can enhance the flavor and help to gently purify and cleanse the body. You can find this rasa in dandelion root, turmeric and fenugreek.
Kasaya (astringent) – increases Vata, decreases Pitta and Kapha
Kasaya, is cool, dry and light — since it is very dry and firm it makes it a taste for Vata to avoid. Pitta benefits from the astringent taste of coolness, while the light and dry qualities help balance Kapha. You’ll know you’re indulging in the astringent rasa when your mouth puckers and dries out. This rasa also allows the slowing down of digestion. You can find the rasa in green beans, sprouts, okra and pomegranates.
Ayurveda’s path of self healing uses the rasas to keep your senses alert and allows you to explore foods while keeping your body in balance. Dosha Pops keeps the rasas in mind when each candy is handmade. Using the rasa to play around and create a new diet is how Ayurveda helps us to be more self-aware while bringing about true healing.