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Season 2 - Episode 2

Exploring the Rasas

10 min - Talk


Ali lets us in on some Ayurvedic theory around food, more specifically the rasas or tastes of food. We breakdown each rasa—sweet, salty, sour, pungent, bitter, and astringent, and explore how each of these tastes relates to each dosha.
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Sep 11, 2018
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Often, when I mention that I'm an Ayurvedic practitioner, people will say to me, oh cool, I've heard of that, so what should I eat? And the food question always comes up at all of my workshops and trainings. So today, I wanted to let you in on some Ayurvedic theory around food, and more specifically, the rasas, or tastes. Before we get into it, I want to preface this by saying that I firmly believe the best thing we can do for ourselves in regards to food is to listen to our bodies. I also know that there may be some cultural attachments to certain foods or dietary requirements due to certain conditions.

Please know that what I'm talking about today is Ayurvedic theory. I'm not saying this is the only plan to follow. Hopefully, this theory can give you some insight into a deeper level of self-care and care for your family and friends. With that, let me introduce you to the shad rasas, or six tastes of food. They are sweet, salty, sour, pungent, bitter, and astringent.

And just as we all have all three dosas, we all need all six tastes for a balanced diet. But this is not a one-size-fits-all plan. Dosas show up in us in varying percentages. And when we know our primary and even secondary dosha, it will give us a better idea of which of these six tastes we need to maximize and which we need to minimize. In addition, in kappa season, we're all going to need a little bit more kappa-reducing foods.

In pitta season, we all need a little bit more pitta-reducing foods. And in vata season, we all need a little bit more vata-reducing foods. So let's break down each taste a little bit further to really understand the reasoning behind the recommendations. We will start with the sweet taste. Remember that Ayurveda is based on the system of the pancha maha bhutas, or five great elements.

If we think about our most obvious sweet taste, fruit, it's easy to understand that the sweet taste is comprised of the elements of earth and water. So the sweet taste is heavy with the earth influence and cooling with the water element. What foods does Ayurveda consider sweet? Well, I mentioned fruit, but I want to get more specific than that. Blueberries are sweet, and so is melon.

Avocados and coconut, two of my personal favorites, are considered sweet, as are my third favorite, sweet potatoes. This category also includes winter squashes, nuts like almonds and cashews, and dairy. Yes, dairy goes in this category as well, but think more butter, ghee, milk, cottage cheese, rather than fermented dairy like yogurt or blue cheese. Whole grains go here as well. Because the virya, or energy, of this rasa is cooling, it's great for pitta.

Because it has the guna, or quality of being heavy, it's great for vata. So the sweet taste is best for pitta and vata, and not as great for kappa. Again, this doesn't mean that those who have kappa as a primary dosha shouldn't have it, just less of it than the other two. Remember that one of the primary concepts of Ayurveda is that like increases like and opposite balances. As kappa dosha is made up of earth and water, it makes sense that kappa would need less of this, and that goes for all of us in kappa season.

Let's move on to salty. If we think about where salt comes from, it's easy to understand that the water element is in there. But in order to extract salt from water, we need some heat. So the salty taste is heavy from the water element, and heating from the fire element. Where do we find this taste?

Obviously it's in salt, but we also include in this category some vegetables that have naturally occurring saline, like celery and cucumbers. Sea vegetables go here as well. So if it's heating, it's not so great for pitta. Since it's heavy, it's not so great for kappa. Vata actually needs some heating and heaviness, so the salty taste is really best for vata.

Moving on to sour. If we think about what immediately comes to mind with the sour taste, usually it's citrus fruit. So yes, it comes from the earth, that's in there. But sour foods have a kick to them, don't they? They have like a strong flavor, and so the sour taste is made up of earth and fire.

And yes, sour, it does include citrus fruit, but also any fermented foods or beverages like yogurt, kombucha, alcohol, miso, and vinegar. Because it's hot from fire, it's really not so great for pitta. Because it's heavy from earth, it's not so great for kappa. So the sour taste is really best for vata. So my vata people, we have your three tastes right there.

Sweet, salty, and sour foods are recommended to make up a large portion of the vata diet. Next up is pungent, and it is fiery. So fiery, in fact, that yes, the element of fire is in there, but also air, because when we add air to fire, it gets bigger. Air is a very light element, it's almost weightless. So the pungent taste is heating and light.

So kappa people, you can go ahead and add some hot sauce to your food. Go ahead. Or some black pepper, some mustard, some radish, or chili peppers. One of my closest friends is very kappa, and he actually belongs to the hot sauce of the month club. But my pitta folks, put down the bottle of Tabasco and slowly back away.

Same for vata. Pick up some cilantro or coconut instead and use that as a garnish. Our fifth rasa is bitter. If you've ever made a trip to the farmer's market and gotten yourself a big bushel of fresh greens to take home, you know that it doesn't weigh much. And when you put them in a pan and add a little bit of heat, they sink down to about 10 percent of their original size.

So it makes sense that their elements are air and space. I mentioned greens, let's look a little closer. All those fresh spring greens like dandelion and broccoli rub and even kale go in here. Kale also has a dash of pungency, as does escarole and arugula. The wonder drug, turmeric, goes here.

And aloe juice, which is so digestive, goes here as well. All of these foods are considered cooling and light. There are some exceptions to the greens though. Spinach and chard actually do not go here. They fall under what's called Prabhav, which is an Ayurvedic term for foods or herbs that act a little differently than you may think.

So spinach and chard, we see their green, and we think cooling like the other greens. But they're unusual as far as Western nutrition is concerned as well because spinach and chard are both high in what's called oxalic acid. A pitta system can be very acidic. So although the bitter taste is strongly recommended for both pitta and kappa, spinach and chard are actually not recommended for pitta. Unless bitter stuff for vata, unless it's cooked really well and you add some digestive spices like cumin and coriander.

Lastly, we come to the astringent taste. This is kind of a hard one, so let me just tell you. Astringent is associated with the elements of earth and air. It's cooling, but kind of heavy. So what exactly is it?

Well, the example that I always like to use is for those of us who couldn't swallow pills as kids. I couldn't swallow pills. So when I had a fever, my mom would take the aspirin and crush it up and put it in some applesauce for me. Invariably there would be one piece that did not get crushed up well and I would bite down on it and my whole tongue would like contract. That's the astringent taste.

Medicine is considered astringent. So our dried beans, white potatoes, eggplant, and pomegranate. The astringent taste is cooling and a little heavy and best for pitta and kappa. Less is better for vata. In conclusion, the best rasas for vata are sweet, salty, and sour.

For pitta, sweet, bitter, and astringent. And for kappa, pungent, bitter, and astringent. Of course, there are many other factors that can shift food like the way it's prepared. For example, roasting will bring out a sweetness which makes it better for vata and pitta. And grilling dries things up a little so it's better for kappa.

And the spices we add can shift things as well. Cumin, coriander, fennel, and turmeric are all tri-doshic or good for all doshes. So if you are having a little trouble with your digestion, add some of those to the foods that best suit your dosha. I hope this has given you some insight into Ayurvedic theory around food. And if all this talk of food has made you hungry, go get yourself a doshically appropriate meal.

Thank Mama Nature for taking care of you and eat slowly, making sure you chew thoroughly, hopefully in a quiet and peaceful atmosphere. Make sure that the healthiest meal can be hard to digest if it's rushed and eaten in a stressful environment. Why not? Call up a few friends, cook a papata something delicious, and enjoy your food in good company. Then your food will taste even better.

Namaste, and thanks for tuning in.


Sonja G
1 person likes this.
Loved that! Thanks, Ali!
Michelle F
1 person likes this.
Hi Ali,
Thank you -haha It did make me hungry! my stomach actually rumbled - really interested to hear what you said about spinach as i reckon im vata pitta and funnily enough,i eat loads of spinach so im going to think about how it effects me! Really looking forward to joining you in this series after your clear concise explanations and pertinent examples for what can be quite confusing concepts!
Ali Cramer
Sonja and Michelle thanks for the support and receptivity! Xo

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