Spice therapy, six tastes
In Ayurveda, foods are classified into six tastes –sweet, sour, salty, bitter, pungent and astringent. Many foods have more than one taste–Turmeric, for example, contains three–bitter, pungent and astringent. Ayurvedic healers recommend that you include all of these six tastes at each main meal you eat. Each taste has a balancing ability, and including some of each provides complete nutrition, minimizes cravings and balances the appetite and digestion. The general North American diet tends to have too much of the sweet, sour and salty tastes, and not enough of the bitter, pungent and astringent tastes.
Here is a sampling of foods in each of the taste groups:
The sweet taste is made up of the elements of water and earth. Since these elements make up the kapha dosha, the sweet taste increases the amount of kapha in the body. Both the pitta and vata dosha are pacified by the sweet taste. Examples of the sweet taste are those foods that are heavy and nourishing like milk, sweet cream, nuts, butter, ghee, wheat, sweet ripe fruits, rice, honey, raw sugar, root vegetables and non-fermented dairy products.
The sour taste is made up of the elements of fire and earth with a small amount of water. The sour taste is great for increasing the digestive fire and the circulation of blood through the body. This taste is best for vata because it is warm, heavy and moist. Both the pitta dosha and the kapha dosha are aggravated by the sour taste. Examples of the sour taste include sour fruits (lemons, limes, grapefruit, etc.), fermented dairy (yogurt, buttermilk, etc.) and other fermented food (sauerkraut, kim-chee, pickled foods, vinegar, mango powder, pomegranate seeds, tamarind etc.)
The salty taste is composed of the water and fire elements. The salty taste helps to enhance the taste of foods and it is imperative for the hydration of the body. Those individuals of a vata nature find balance in the warm, moist and slightly heavy qualities of the salty taste. Both the pitta and the kapha dosha are increased by the salty taste. Examples of the salty taste include salt (rock salt), soy sauce, pickles and foods found in the salt water of the ocean (seafood, seaweed, kelp, etc.)
The bitter taste is composed of the air and ether elements. The bitter taste helps to purify the blood and reduce blood sugar levels. This taste is the coldest of all the tastes. Pitta dosha benefits the most from the bitter taste, as it is cool and dry. Kapha also benefits from the light and dry qualities of the bitter taste. The vata dosha is easily aggravated by the bitter taste since both the dosha and the taste share the same elements of air and ether. Examples of the bitter taste include leafy greens, burdock root and herbs like dandelion, turmeric, fenugreek and goldenseal.
The pungent taste contains the elements of fire and air. The pungent taste is the best for increasing digestion and circulation, as it is very hot and light. It is also the driest of all the tastes. The warm, light and dry qualities of the pungent taste make it the best taste for reducing kapha. Both pitta and vata are increased by the pungent taste. Examples of the pungent taste include chili peppers, hot sauce and other spices like black pepper, cayenne pepper, ginger, mustard, radish and cloves .
The astringent taste is composed of the elements of earth and air. Although it contains the earth element, the astringent taste reduces bodily tissue due to its predominantly dry and cool qualities. The astringent taste is used to improve the tone of tissues and to dry up excess water in the body. The astringent taste reduces the oiliness of the pitta dosha and the moisture of the kapha dosha. The dry and cool qualities of the astringent taste increase the vata dosha. Examples of the astringent taste include most beans, cranberries and pomegranate, turmeric, cruciferous vegetables such as cauliflower and cabbage, cilantro.
Here are some suggested spice mixes to help balance each of the three doshas.
Vata-balancing Six Taste Spice Mix: 3 parts fennel, 1 part turmeric, 1 part cumin, 1 part dried ginger, 1 part black pepper, 1 part cardamom, 1 part salt, 1 part brown sugar, 1 part fenugreek, 1 part dried mango powder (all powdered)
Pitta-balancing Six Taste Spice Mix: 6 parts fennel, 2 parts coriander, 2 parts cumin, 1 part turmeric, 1 part salt, 1 part brown sugar, 1 part dried mango powder (all powdered)
Kapha-balancing Six Taste Spice Mix: 2 parts dried ginger, 2 parts black pepper, 2 parts turmeric, 1 part coriander, 1 part cumin, 1 part sweet paprika, 1 part salt, 1 part brown sugar, 1 part dried mango powder (all powdered)
TODAY’s TIP: The simplest, least expensive way to incorporate spice therapy into your life is through the use of churnas. Churnas are combinations of powdered spices with all six tastes with either vata-, pitta, or kapha-type spices predominating. To use, you simply sprinkle the mixture over your food at least once a day, just like salt or pepper. You can buy churnas or make them by yourself ( see recipes above). Combine the spices and keep in a handy shaker jar.