All Good Things

What are the six tastes and why are they important?

06.02.20

Ayurveda (a traditional system of medicine developed in India) identifies six tastes by which all foods can be categorized: pungent, astringent, salty, sweet, bitter, and sour. Foods are each identified as having 1-2 primary tastes present. Some of these are intuitive, for example: coconut is said to have a sweet taste, coffee has a bitter taste, lemon has a sour taste, and seaweed has a salty taste. Some may be less obvious: asparagus has an astringent taste, ginger has a pungent taste.

Ayurveda teaches that it is important to experience all of the six tastes with each meal. Not only does incorporating all of these flavors make the meal incredibly satisfying, it also ensures that the nourishment is optimally digested. Fun fact: we intentionally designed our Sesame Nori Seasoning to include all six tastes in order to make it easy to incorporate each taste into any meal you sprinkle it on! If you’re interested, check out our Learnings from Ayurveda to learn why we incorporate Ayurvedic teachings into our products and philosophy.

It’s possible that foods in each of these taste categories contain different types of digestive enzymes that, in concert, enable more complete digestion. (And as we’ve written before, good health starts with good digestion!) For example, sour tomatoes and citrus fruits increase stomach acidity, which can be good for stalled digestion, but can also create acid reflux in an overly active gut or one with very powerful digestive fire. Foods with a sweet taste, like mangos, melons, sweet potatoes, and rice, can be very hydrating to the body by providing glucose and other electrolytes. By advising to ‘eat across the tastes,’ Ayurveda invites us to ensure a diversity of positive digestive effects in our bodies.

Ayurveda goes one step further and advises different tastes to soothe different imbalances. The sweet taste is said to be cooling and grounding, which would be good for soothing maladies, such as diarrhea, that Ayurveda associates with having too much heat or pitta in the body. This yields a recommendation for a ‘sweet’ food, like rice, for loose stools. This recommendation has also made its way to Western Medicine with the ‘BRAT’ (Bananas, Rice, Applesauce, Toast) diet.

If you know your unique dosha, either inborn or currently imbalanced, you can filter products on our website by the tastes to support your imbalance:

pitta - seek sweet, bitter, and astringent tastes

vata - seek sweet, sour, and salty tastes

kapha - seek astringent, bitter, and pungent tastes

For more on the six tastes, we love Banyan Botanicals’ Guide.

As always, these tips work best in conjunction with eating high-quality, whole, fresh foods that you enjoy at regular times of day. Gut health (aka agni) is a critical underlying component of all forms of health and recovery, because it enables us to properly absorb and incorporate the nutrients our immune system needs to heal.