Introduction To Taste
‘We are what we eat’, our food is linked to the sun, the seasons and the elements. Just as the Doshas are made up of the elements so is our food, so we can correspond our diet to our Dosha. The different foods and taste have different physical and psychological effects on us, and especially eating too much of the tastes and elements that match our individual Dosha causes imbalance and the Dosha to increase.
Ayurveda recommends eating all six tastes in our daily diet for health and balance. Many foods incorporate more than one taste and the depth of the taste can vary from very mild to very strong depending on the food ingredient.
- Sweet taste offers nourishment and energy to maintain the body’s health and structure. It relieves hunger and we feel satisfied and happy after we’ve eating sweet foods. In excess the sweet taste can lead to obesity, diabetes, congestive colds, lethargy and indigestion.
- When Ayurveda identifies Sweet taste we’re not thinking about cakes and sweets but the whole range of foods that we eat that have a more neutral-sweet taste including meat, fish, grains, fruit vegetables, eggs and dairy products as well as the natural sweetness of honey and maple syrup. Some herbs include sweetness in their taste including cinnamon, mint, nutmeg and basil. In modern nutrition this equates to most carbohydrates, protein and fats and makes up the main component of our meals.
- Sour taste offers a refreshing, sharp stimulating effect to the body, mind and senses and in small quantities stimulates saliva, appetite and digestion. In excess the sour taste creates acidity leading to acid indigestion, heartburn, ulcers and skin problems like psoriasis.
- Foods that are sour are the other major food group in our diet along with sweet. Sour taste can really aggravate Pitta so they should aim to reduce sour taste in the diet to not more than 10%.
How to add sour taste to your diet and cooking:
- Drinking a mug of hot water with a slice of lemon or a tablespoon of apple cider vinegar.
- Vinaigrette dressing of oil and vinegar on our salad leave; apple cider vinegar or balsamic vinegar make a softer sour tasting vinaigrette.
- Bread (especially sour dough), cheese and fermented foods e.g. sauerkraut and pickles are all easy ways of incorporating the sour taste into our diet.
- Yoghurt, preferably organic plain yoghurt with no added sugar; eaten on its own or used to balance a savoury dish is a very versatile ingredient in cooking. Note – Yoghurt is best avoided with the evening meal and at night, as it is heavy to digest.
- Sour fruits – apples, apricots, blackberries, cherries, grapefruit, lemons, limes, mango, kiwi, oranges, peaches, pineapple and pomegranate all include the taste of sour, even when combined with other tastes. Note – fruit is best eaten at breakfast or on its own for easy digestion and to allow its light cleansing properties to have effect.
- The key vegetable that includes the sour taste are tomatoes.
- Use soy or tamari sauce and miso in cooking to add sour and salt taste.
- Just the addition of a few drops of lemon or other sour taste adds a lightness and tang to enhance a recipe acting as a foil to salt, sweet and fat.
- Salt is an essential nutrient that we obtain from our food. We need to have a small amount of salt in our diets for good health. Eating too little can be as detrimental as eating too much.
- Salt taste amplifies all flavours and tastes, in small amounts it promotes a zest for life, digestion, increases saliva, is a mild laxative and maintains the water balance in the body. In excess salt can lead to high blood pressure, water retention, weakens muscles and premature aging.
- In today’s modern diet too much of our salt intake can come from processed and ready-made foods, take away and snack foods. Check the label!
- Moderate to low levels of salt are found in many fresh foods including fruit, vegetables, fish and animal products, pulses, grains and nuts as salt finds its way into the soil.
- In cooking it is better to use unprocessed sea or rock salt rather than table salt, which is highly processed and refined.
How to add salt taste in your diet and cooking:
- Add ½ level teaspoon salt to vegetables or pasta etc. in boiling water allows the vegetables to absorb the salt in the water.
- Basting meat, fish, vegetables – sprinkle ½ level teaspoon of salt over the food and leave to rest and absorb the salt before roasting.
- We can also add salt from other sources; parmesan cheese, Worcestershire sauce, anchovies, capers, soy sauce, miso paste, fish sauce or seaweed are examples of salt flavoured ingredients that can add the salt taste and build flavour into a dish.
- Salt is also present in salt water fish, foods preserved in salt or brine, pickled and fermented vegetables including sauerkraut, cheese, most condiments, cured meats including bacon, olives and salted butter.
- Pungent taste in small amounts improves digestion, dispels gas and induces sweating, clears body channels and reduces obesity. In excess the heat can lead to inflammation, heartburn, diarrhoea, insomnia, stomach ulcers, sexual debility, thirst, fatigue and skin rashes.
- Kapha needs much more pungent in the diet than Vata and Pitta who only need small amounts of this taste in the daily diet to gain the health benefits without causing an imbalance.
How to add pungent taste to your diet and cooking:
- Ginger tea is an effective way of adding pungent to your diet. Either use the recipe included (Website page: Digestion and Ginger Tea Recipe) or if you’re short of time just infuse a slice of fresh ginger root in boiling water. It’s fabulous for the digestive system and eliminating Ama (toxins) from the body.
- Use pungent herbs basil, cardamom, cayenne, cinnamon, cloves, coriander, cumin, mustard, oregano, parsley, black pepper, peppermint, rosemary, sage, star anise, tarragon, thyme and turmeric in with your cooking and as a garnish.
Late winter and early spring is the time of year when we are seeking more warming foods and dishes like Chilli Con Carne and Curry and using pungent herbs to support our digestion and keep are bodies warm.
- Many recipes use onion and garlic as base ingredients. Pita and Vata digest cooked onions better than raw.
- When making a salad add a few radishes, fresh herb leaves, watercress and spring onion.
- A small amount of fresh organic freshly ground coffee (pungent & bitter) once a day.
- Indulge in the occasional glass of wine (pungent & bitter) or glass of beer.
- Use 2 teaspoons of flaxseeds in with your cooking daily; you can sprinkle it over breakfast cereal, spoon it into porridge, stir it into cooking or use as a garnish. Put 2 teaspoons of flaxseeds in a small bowl and cover with cold water, leave for ½ hour or overnight to soften to make them easier to digest. Alternatively grind in a spice or coffee grinder.
- Treat yourself to a small square of bitter dark chocolate (pungent & bitter) occasionally.
- Miso – use Miso in your cooking or use it as a thin soup.
- Bitter taste in small amounts promotes all other tastes, is cleansing and purifying and promotes weight loss. It is a taste that is not popular in the West, with the exception of coffee and is often missing from our diet. In excess bitter can be depleting, induce coldness, dryness, constipation and nervous disorders.
- We should all have some bitter taste in our diet everyday, more so for Kapha and Pitta and just a small amount for Vata. Seasonally we should incorporate more bitter taste in our diet during Pitta time – late spring and early summer and Kapha season – late winter and early spring but eat less in Vata season – autumn and early winter.
- Stale food, that is no longer fresh, often tastes bitter and should be avoided as it lacks vitality and has lost any health giving properties.
How to add bitter taste to your diet and cooking:
- A daily portion of dark green leafy vegetables like kale, Swiss chard, spinach, turnip, or a bitter lettuce.
- A small amount of fresh organic freshly ground coffee (bitter & pungent) or loose-leaf tea each day.
- Indulge in the odd glass of wine (bitter & pungent).
- Garnishes to dishes like lemon or orange peel, adding spring onions and garlic to your cooking, which include the bitter taste.
- Use Amaranth and Quinoa as a whole grain in your cooking occasionally.
- Use herbs, including coriander, turmeric, juniper, rosemary and sage, in with your cooking that includes a bitter taste.
- Treat yourself to a small square of bitter dark chocolate (bitter & pungent) or a small handful of almonds (sweet & bitter)!
- Astringent taken in small amounts stops bleeding and diarrhoea, aids digestion, heals wounds and mucus membrane. Overuse can lead to dryness, constipation, emaciation, nervous disorders and thirst.
- Pitta and Kapha both benefit from astringent in the diet, Vata only needs a very small amount. Eat more astringent foods from late winter to summer, Pitta and Kapha time and eat less in autumn and early winter, which is Vata season.
How to add astringent taste to your diet and cooking:
- Include fruits into your diet: apples, bananas, blueberries, cranberries, figs, kiwi, pomegranate and raspberries that incorporate astringent in their taste.
- Include vegetables in your diet: artichoke, bean sprouts, bell peppers, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, celery, Swiss chard, cucumber, aubergine, garlic, green beans, kale, lettuce, mushrooms, parsley, peas, radish, seaweed, spinach and turnips that incorporate astringent in their taste.
- Some cereals and grains; oats, rye and wheat include astringent in their taste.
- Beans/Legumes – are astringent in taste including: Aduki, broad beans, chick peas, kidney beans, Mung beans, dal, butter beans, lentils and soya beans. These are especially good for Kapha, but can be disturbing for Vata. Legumes and beans can be eaten as a side dish, as a dhal, added to soups and stews or tossed into a salad bowl. It is important to cook beans properly, and is one of the few exceptions when you might buy tinned if you don’t have the time to ensure thorough cooking.