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Home sjmtoc 6 Therapeutic Action of Taste in Ayurveda

6.4 Effects of Taste on the Ayurvedic Humors

Each of the humors is increased by three tastes and decreased by the other three tastes. This is how Ayurveda uses the tastes to balance vata, pita and kapha. Increase means to make it more or stronger. Generally we don’t want to increase what we are already. For example, I am a P type, so I have ample heat already, so much so that I crated an ulcer. In order to heal that ulcer I needed to avoid all the hot tastes that increase P and use the other three that decrease P. Opposite tastes generally balance, or lower, what is in excess or aggravated.

From the tables below it is evident that, being a P person, I want to have sweet, bitter, and astringent tastes predominating in my diet. I still need the other tastes, and will eat them, but I have to watch out that I don’t use them too much, or I will activate those hot P emotions and possibly as P disease. In the case of an occurring disease, like an ulcer, I had to completely avoid (for a time) the sour and pungent tastes, and could only take salt in an indirect way.

Tastes and Humors
SweetEarth + WaterKaphaVata / Pitta
SourEarth + FirePitta / KaphaVata
SaltyWater + FirePitta / KaphaVata
Pungent (spicy)Fire + AirVata / PittaPungent / Kapha
BitterAir + EtherVataPitta / Kapha
AstringentAir + EarthVataPitta / Kapha

Humors and Tastes
VataBitter, Pungent, AstringentSweet, Sour, Salt
PittaSour, Salt, PungentSweet, Bitter, Astringent
KapaSweet, Sour, SaltPungent, Bitter, Astringent

For someone who is an overweight K type, the pungent, bitter, and astringent tastes will help reduce fat, but care must be taken to still eat enough simple sweet foods to receive the nutrients necessary to live. Never do anything drastic! It will only shock your body, activate its biological survival instincts, and end up having the opposite effect or worse. The idea is to avoid the tastes in their pure forms and use them in their complex form if they INCREASE your humor. If they DECREASE your humor, you can use them in their pure form (Table 4).

Pure and Complex Forms of Taste

SweetSugarsGrains / complex carbohydrates
SourAlcoholYogurt / Lemon
SaltyTable saltSoysauce / Seaweed
Pungent (spicy)Cayenne pepper / chiliMild spice / cinnamon / onion
BitterGentian, AloeRhubarb / leafy,dark green plants
AstringentUnripe bananasPomegranates, Cranberries

One thing to understand clearly is that every food or herb has all the tastes. Sometimes the tastes are latent, meaning you cannot actually taste them. Usually one taste will predominate over the other five, but certain tastes are in difficult to find in pure forms, like astringent. Astringent is more often a secondary taste to sweet, such as in grains and some meats. Red meat is predominantly sweet in taste. It builds tissues and is nutritious to the body, but because of the sweet, warm, heavy qualities, it is also heavy to digest, taking almost three days to be digested completely. Fish can be too hot for P types, for whom chicken or turkey are better because of their astringent second taste. Chicken is lighter and digests faster because of the astringent secondary taste and because the long-term effect is pungent, which is the antidote to sweet. However, all meat is tamasic or dulling in quality and is not recommended as a daily food in Yoga or Ayurveda. Virtually all our basic foods are predominantly of the sweet taste.

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