If you are anything at all like me, eating occupies a lot of your time. Thinking about it, drooling over beautiful pictures of it, buying it, preparing it, and, of course, eating it…I know it’s not true for everyone, but for me and many of the people I know, food is really a passion.
If sight is our most human of senses, taste is probably our most social. We “break bread” together, we host a feast in celebration of major life landmarks and we offer food to our ancestors, gods and goddesses.
In Ayurveda, food makes up a good portion of your medicine bag. The way your food tastes helps you identify how it benefits you. The 6 tastes–sweet, salty, sour, pungent (“spicy”), bitter and astringent–each have their own set of qualities and effects in your body.
Sweet taste is the most satisfying and filling (followed by salty and sour) but in excess it starts to dull your tastebuds. If you’re not preparing your own food, that makes it likely that lots of extra sugar and salt has been added to it to please your palate. The more sweet you have, the more you need in order to keep tasting it. Kinda scary.
Luckily, the 6 tastes work synergistically. While sweet taste has this heavy, dulling effect, bitter taste (and, to an extent, pungent and astringent) helps to cleanse your palate. (In fact, in Ayurveda and Chinese medicine, bitter herbs are used to combat diabetes). It’s a great practice to include a little bit of bitter taste in your diet every day.
Try this experiment to get more in touch with your sense of taste:
Collect one item from each category and give yourself 10 minutes to taste them, pausing after each taste to feel any physiological or mind-state changes. Take a sip of water or plain green tea between each taste to cleanse your palate.
Astringent– black tea, grape skins, banana peel
Bitter– green tea (brewed strongly), dandelion greens
Pungent– fresh ginger, pepper, arugula
Salty– seaweed, pink rock salt
Sour– vinegar, wine, lime, lemon
Sweet– date, pear, raisin
As you get more and more familiar with the 6 tastes, you’ll start to notice more layers and nuance even in familiar foods. Tell me in the comments what other foods you can think of for any of the 6 tastes.