November 11, 2020

The 6 Rasas (Tastes) that should be included in Every Meal—according to Ayurveda.


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And enjoy the delight to your senses.

Food calls to us through taste. And it calls to us through sight and smell. Let us not forget the touch and how it feels in our hands and on our tongues.

When have your salivary glands released their enzymes and set your mouth watering?

Was it the call of the just-ripe banana with brown spots laying on the multi-colored tray on your kitchen counter? Or, maybe it was the aroma of the dark coffee as you opened the lid on the glass jar to scoop those magical ground beans into the organic coffee-sock filter? It could be the heady cardamom seeds as you sprinkle them in with the grounds. The mystical Ceylon cinnamon that you generously spooned into your red mug that sent its scent to your nares.

In Ayurveda, the 5,000-year-old science from India, they speak of there being six tastes—called rasas.

We will leave aside the language in Ayurveda and use English terms.

These six tastes are: sweet, sour, salty, bitter, pungent, and astringent.

They are related to the five elements: air, space (ether), earth, fire, and water. Following Ayurvedic principles, we would consume all six at each meal, varying the amount and item.

Let’s take a bit to ponder what foods fall into different categories, noting that there can be some cross over.

What comes to mind when we take the heaviest of these—sweet—and, probably, the most loved? Sweet potatoes, ripe bananas, pumpkins, wheat, syrup, dairy, other grains, avocado, and oils. Yes, I did mention that it is the heaviest of the six tastes. It also aids in our digestion by being the first to metabolize and is important with our nutritional needs of fats and carbohydrates. Dessert first?

Sour, ah, bite into that lemon, squeeze the lime in your mashed avocado, pour vinegar in a bottle to make a salad dressing, drink that glass of wine, and consume a pickled cucumber. Sour tastes stimulate the salivary glands, which is the first part of the digestive process, after your sight and smell of the meal.

Salt anyone? That often overused ingredient by some is important for stimulating digestion and balancing our electrolytes. You do not always need to shake it out of a container. Seaweed, sea salts, tamari, and black olives are a few choices to get that salty tongue action.

Love your broccoli, leafy greens, green or black teas? How about asparagus and brussel sprouts? Zucchini, snow peas, cauliflower, bell peppers? Oh my! That’s your bitter taste. Important for magnesium and calcium and cleansing and detoxifying the blood.

Next up we will explore pungent. We might clear our sinuses with this earthy taste. On the list, there is mustard, garlic, onions, cumin, turmeric, leeks, scallions, shallots, all hot spices, ginger, and black pepper—ready to stimulate, warm, and energize you.

Last, according to Ayurveda, is the lightest of all and best to consume last, astringent. With qualities of light and dryness, it includes nuts and seeds, lentils, chickpeas, edamame, sprouts, most raw veggies, and legumes. It slows our digestion and may be calming.

A taste term you may have heard of—umami—is fairly new in the Western region of this tiny blue planet. And, if you are not familiar with it, you will recognize it by the associated foods. To the meat-eaters out there, the taste of cooked meats and broths is your umami calling. To us non-meat eaters, and others, umami could be some cheeses, anchovies, and my favorite: ‘shrooms. Now I am wanting some mushrooms! Thankfully, my favorite organic farmer is at the Saturday neighborhood market and she brings a whole lotta ‘shrooms for my culinary delights.

Umami is Japanese for “savoriness.” And savor, I will, those mushrooms.

I alluded to the five elements at the beginning of this article. The references were in agreement on four of the six connections to the tastes. Each taste identifies with two elements. Sour and salty had references noting one as different; I will note that one in italics.

Sweet: water and earth.

Sour: water and fire or earth and fire.

Salty: earth and fire or water and fire.

Pungent: fire and air.

Bitter: air and space.

Astringent: air and earth.

Now, time to get into the kitchen and tickle those taste buds and do some good for our body’s digestive system. Practice maitri—that art of loving-kindness to yourself so you can give compassion and love to others. Maybe share a recipe, maybe share a meal.

Want to read more? Here are a few modern takes on the six tastes of Ayurveda:

Eat-Taste-Heal, An Ayurveda Guidebook and Cookbook for Modern Living.  Thomas Yarema, MD, Daniel Rhodes, D.A.S. Five Elements Press, Hawaii, 2006. (My personal favorite).

Eat Feel Fresh, A Contemporary Plant-based Ayurvedic Cookbook. Sahara Rose Ketabi.  2018.

Perfect Health, The Complete Mind, Body, Guide. Deepak Chopra, MD. Three Rivers Press.  New York. 1991, 2000.

For more consider:

The Complete Book of Ayurvedic Home Remedies. Vasant Lad, M.A.Sc.  Three Rivers Press. New York, 1998.

Lessons on the Path of Ayurveda. Three Rivers Press. New York. 2011.

Ayurvedic Healing: A Comprehensive Guide. David Fraley, MD.  Lotus Press, Twin Lakes, Wisconsin. 2001.

Yoga and Ayurveda Self-healing and Self-realization. Lotus Press. Twin Lakes, Wisconsin. 1999.

“The 6 tastes: A guide map to ultimate nutrition.”


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