Updated: Jul 7, 2021
In Ayurveda we say "nothing is right for everybody and everything is right for someone."
The Six Tastes in Ayurveda:
In Ayurveda nothing is right for everybody and everything is right for someone. This principle applies to ayurvedic nutrition as well. But rather than jumping to conclusions about food groups let's go one more level down to the tastes. Understanding the tastes and their impact on the doshas will be helpful guide for choosing the right foods and preparations for your situation. Any food can be prepared in a balancing way when we understand what those characteristics are.
The sweet taste is cooling and grounding. Its qualities are heavy, moist, cool and stable. So those qualities are increasing Kapha while they reduce Pitta (for the cooling effect) and Vata (for the heaviness and moisture). So Kaphas should stay mostly away while the Vatas and Pittas might enjoy it in moderation. Sweet taste can be found in fruits, root vegetables, grains and dairy for instance. Want to make those more kapha friendly? Spice it up! Carrots work great with ginger in a soup or juice.
The sour taste has heavy, hot, moist and stable qualities. So people of Vata nature benefit the most eating sour foods or drinks. Pitta is aggravated by the hot quality and Kapha is aggravated by the heaviness. Think fermented foods or drinks, yoghurt, citrus fruits like lemon and oranges. Interestingly lime (not lemon) has a sweet post digestive effect so it is well tolerated by Pittas.
The salty taste has moist, heavy and warm qualities. That's why a lot of Vata people crave salty foods. Pittas and Kaphas need to be more moderate with this taste: the warming effect increases pitta and the heavy quality and moisture attracting nature of salt increases Kapha.
The pungent taste (e.g. cayenne pepper, chilis or dry ginger) has very hot, light, mobile and dry qualities. That makes it very beneficial for Kapha conditions. Pitta is strongly increased by it and Vatas don't do well with the dryness and lightness. While Pittas best stay away, Vatas can balance out the dryness by for example adding good quality oils or ghee or cream to a dish with a lot of pungent taste.
The astringent taste has a cool and dry quality. Think cranberries or beans or pomegranate. Astringent herbs are used to reduce bleeding and oozing. Astringent tastes tighten the tissues and improve tone, so they have a reducing effect on the body and mind. It is beneficial for Pittas due the coolness and for Kapha due to the dryness.
The bitter taste has cool, light, dry and mobile qualities. As those are pretty much the qualities of Vata, the bitter taste is most aggravating to people with a lot of Vata. However the light and mobile qualities help to move things around and therefore it is so beneficial for spring time in that it moves and releases Kapha due to the dryness and mobility and Pitta due to its very cooling effect. Leafy greens which are coming to the farmers markets right now have a good amount of the bitter taste. To make it more Vata friendly add oils and warmth with spices like nutmeg or sesame for instance.
In Ayurveda a wholesome meal should have all 6 tastes - maybe next time you cook a meal you can see what's missing or which taste is too predominant? Spices and herbs not only add flavor and support digestion but they are great helpers as well to complete the six tastes.
With my best wishes for a safe, healthy and balanced summer season,