One of the foundational teachings of the Ayurvedic tradition is that everything in the universe is composed of five elements—earth, water, fire, air, and ether (space). The tastes are no different; each of them contains all five elements. That said, each taste is predominantly composed of two elements.
The 6 Tastes and Their Predominant Elements
|Sweet (Madhura)||Earth & Water|
|Sour (Amla)||Earth & Fire|
|Salty (Lavana)||Water & Fire|
|Pungent (Katu)||Fire & Air|
|Bitter (Tikta)||Air & Ether|
|Astringent (Kashaya)||Air & Earth|
From these elementary beginnings, the experience of taste initiates a complex cascade of influences that touches every aspect of the mind-body organism. For each substance, that mosaic includes its:
- Rasa, or taste (a single taste or a combination of different tastes)
- Aggravating or pacifying effect on each of the doshas (vata, pitta, kapha)
- Virya, or temperature (whether the substance is heating or cooling in nature)
- Vipaka, or post-digestive effect (affects the excreta and nourishes individual cells)
- Prabhava, or an unpredictable action unique to a particular substance (i.e. ghee is cooling and yet it kindles the digestive fire)
- Gunas, or associated qualities
- Affinity for particular organs or tissues
- Direction of movement within the body
- Emotional influence
The combination of all of these factors can affect a wide range of responses in different individuals. While each substance is certainly unique, each of the six tastes tends to exert a somewhat predictable influence on our physiology.
Derived from water and earth element influences. It increases kapha dosha and reduces vata and pitta. Examples of foods with sweet taste are grains and complex carbohydrates, milk, butter, and cashews. Sweet taste is best obtained from complex carbohydrates and sweeteners (in moderation) so that their post-digestive effects are the result of digestion. The sweet taste of ordinary foods nourishes and builds the body. Many of the foods recommended for rejuvenation purposes are sweet when well-masticated and have a sweet post-digestive effect.
Derived from fire and earth elements. It increases pitta and kapha and decreases vata. Some foods with sour taste are citrus and some other fruits ,hard cheeses, and yogurt. Needed in small quantities.
Derived from fire and water element influences. It increases pitta and kapha and decreases vāta. Helps in maintaining mineral balance and retaining water. Can usually be derived from foods.
Derived from air and fire element influences. Increases vāta and pitta and reduces kapha. Is in hot peppers, ginger, cumin, and some other spices. Needed for metabolism, stimulates appetite and digestion.
Derived from ether and air element influences.It increases vata and decreases pitta and kapha. Found in spinach and some other green leafy vegetables, eggplant, and turmeric. Helpful in detoxification of the body, hence its use in some medicinal preparations when body cleansing is needed.
Derived from ether and earth element influences. It increases vāta and decreases pitta and kapha. Found in beans, lentils, and some fruits. Helpful in maintaining tissue firmness.