The Six Tastes in Ayurveda 

Taste, or rasa in Ayurveda, is one of the most important ways we can influence our mind and body balance. In Ayurveda, taste is a much more important concept than we assume in the West. The six tastes in Ayurveda can powerfully influence our doshas by either increasing or balancing them, so it is crucial to use them properly to maintain good health.

Every substance in the world has a taste attribute, which manifests when it contacts our tongues. Depending on how you grow, harvest, cook, or prepare a substance, it could have a different taste. The sweet, salty, sour, butter, pungent, and astringent tastes can combine in hundreds of ways to influence our physiological and mental state. 

In this post, we will focus on the first order effects of the six tastes in Ayurveda as well as how to apply the six tastes within an Ayurvedic diet.

What are the 6 tastes in Ayurveda?

According to Ayurveda, each substance (whether a rock or a vegetable) is made of a unique combination of the five elements: space, air, fire, water, and earth. The most prominent two elements give rise to a substance’s primary taste and associated qualities. These attributes can impact both our mind and body. 

The Sanskrit sloka lists the six tastes and their energetic impact. There are six primary tastes, known as shad rasa: sweet (madhura), sour (amla), salt (lavana), bitter (tilkta), pungent (katu), and astringent (kashaya). These are listed in decreasing order of energetic (for our purposes read as calorific) impact on the body.  It is logical that the sweet taste, which includes most carbs, proteins and fats, constitutes the bulk of the Ayurvedic diet and has the highest impact. The astringent taste has the lowest energetic impact. 

Six tastes-Sanskrit sloka AH-Su

It’s important to note that a food’s taste according to Ayurveda may not always align with the way you’re used to describing its taste in the West. Vanilla ice cream is certainly dominated by the sweet taste, but ghee or the spice fennel are also described as having a sweet taste. 

Different foods have different proportions and combinations of the six tastes. The six primary tastes can also give rise to sixty three other combinations of tastes, which are outside the scope of our discussion. 

Let’s review the characteristics of each taste.

Sweet Taste in Ayurveda (madhura)

The sweet taste is predominantly made of water and earth, so it takes on their attributes. Just like water and earth, it is heavy and slow to digest. Similarly, it is cool in potency, oily, acts like a lubricant, and helps eliminate body waste.

As it relates to the mind, the sweet taste is associated with the emotions of desire, contentment, and comfort. It is no wonder why we look for comfort cookies in our lives!

The sweet taste balances vata and pitta and increases kapha. It is good for the young, aged, wounded, and depleted. It has the potential to increase strength in our body tissues and sense organs.

Consuming too much of the sweet taste is associated with diseases like obesity, asthma, diabetes, enlargements of glands, coughs, and cancer. Behaviorally, it may lead to attachment and greed. 

As we discussed above, the sweet taste provides the highest energetic value in our food. We can derive the sweet taste from a variety of sources, which include carbs, fats and proteins. You can find the sweet taste in various grains, dairy, meats, nuts, root vegetables, ghee, coconut oil, and sesame oil. 

Sweet (madhura) taste in Ayurveda

Sour Taste in Ayurveda (amla)

The sour taste is predominantly made of fire and earth, and it takes on their attributes. For example, it is hot in potency, stimulates digestive fire, is good for the heart, and increases nutrient absorption. It causes salivation, moistens the body, and can cause tingling in the teeth. 

As it relates to the mind, the sour taste sharpens our senses and is associated with discrimination, good judgement, and enthusiasm.

The sour taste balances vata and increases pitta and kapha.

Having too much of the sour taste may weaken and loosen the body, impact vision, and cause itching and swelling. Behaviorally, it may lead to envy and jealousy. 

We can get the sour taste from foods like yogurt, buttermilk, sour or unripe fruits, tomatoes, beer, and wine.

Sour (alma) taste in Ayurveda

Salty Taste in Ayurveda (lavana)

The salty taste is predominantly made of water and fire, and it takes on their attributes. It is mildly hot in potency, causing a burning sensation in our cheeks and throat. It penetrates, lubricates, and removes stiffness. 

As it relates to the mind, the salty taste is associated with enthusiasm and courage.

The salty taste balances vata and increases pitta and kapha. It also reduces the effect of other tastes—no wonder that salty and sweet tastes dominate our snack industry!

Excess salty taste may cause baldness, skin wrinkles, or cellulitis. It is bad for eyes, teeth, and can cause blood diseases. Its behavioral implications include irritability and addiction.

The salty taste can come from salts of different kinds, including pink salt, rock salt, and black salt. (In Ayurveda, different salts are used for different purposes). You can also get the salty taste from the food that we eat, like salted meats or seaweed.

Salty (lavana) in Ayurveda

Bitter Taste in Ayurveda (tikta) 

The bitter taste is predominantly made of space and air, and it takes on their attributes. It causes salivation and tingling in teeth. It is rough, cool in potency and has a drying effect on fat, bone marrow, and feces. The bitter taste helps trigger appetite, removes worms, cleanses the throat, and relieves fever, nausea, skin diseases, thirst, diabetes, and obesity.

As it relates to the mind, the bitter taste is associated with detachment,clarity, and a sharp intelligence.

Bitter taste balances pitta and kapha and increases vata.  

In Ayurveda, an excess of the bitter taste weakens tissues, causes roughness and dryness in mouth, fainting and is associated with rheumatism. Its behavioral implications include grief and loneliness. 

The bitter taste can be found in green leafy vegetables like neem, kale, celery, dandelion, coriander, cilantro, coffee, and chocolate.

Bitter (tikta) taste in Ayurveda

Pungent Taste in Ayurveda (katu)

The pungent taste, or katu, is predominantly made of fire and air and takes on their attributes. It is rough, drying and hot in potency. It causes irritation in the eyes and nose and has a burning sensation on the tip of your tongue. It helps fight throat and skin diseases, ulcers, cold, and obesity. It also dilates and opens up channels and stimulates metabolism and toxin removal. 

As it relates to the mind, the pungent taste is associated with excitement, passion, and concentration.

The pungent taste balances kapha and increases vata and pitta. 

In Ayurveda, excess pungent taste can cause fainting, thirst, tremors, and decrease strength and virility. Its behavioral implications include anger and impatience.

The pungent taste can be found in peppers like cayenne and black pepper, garlic, ginger, onions, radishes, mustard oil, and cloves.

Pungent (katu) taste in Ayurveda

Astringent Taste in Ayurveda (kashaya)

The astringent taste is predominantly made of earth and air and takes on their attributes. It is rough, cool in potency, drying, causes salivation and tingling in teeth. It has the quality of numbing the tongue and reducing perception of taste. 

The astringent taste cleanses blood, shrinks and heals tumors and ulcers, strengthens bones, and creates supple skin. It is used in toxin removal since it helps in digestion of undigested food.

As it relates to the mind, it is associated with groundness and stability.

The astringent taste balances pitta & kapha and increases vata.

Excess pungent taste causes indigestion, constipation, dryness, blockage of channels, and flatulence. Its negative behavioral implications include the feeling of fear, confinement and  mental confusion.

The astringent taste can be found in lentils, dried beans, cabbage, horseradish, tart apples, honey, pomegranates, parsley, and cinnamon. 

Astringent (kashaya) taste in Ayurveda

The 6 tastes from a nutritional perspective

In Ayurveda, we speak of six tastes rather than the six major classes of nutrients, like carbs, fats, proteins, vitamins, minerals, and water. Ayurveda focuses on the signaling effects of the tastes on both the brain and the gut in order to achieve a balanced body. It teaches us to create meals which create a harmonious balance of the six tastes. 

From a nutritional perspective, the sweet taste is associated with proteins, carbs, fats, and water. The sour taste is associated with mineral salts, which are generally found in unripe fruits or as a result of fermentation and acidity. The bitter, pungent and astringent tastes are contained in most of our minerals and vitamins.

In addition, spices form an entire spectrum of six tastes. A spice like fennel can have a sweet taste. They are used in various combinations to alter tastes and basically serve as immunomodulators.

The relationship between tastes (both on our tongues and through our trigeminal nerves) and our physiology, psychology and disease is an active area of research.

How to use the 6 tastes during the course of a day

Here is an example of how you can use the 6 tastes in meals throughout the day if you have a balanced vata-pitta constitution.

Breakfast at 7 am 

Coffee with cacao (bitter), cinnamon (astringent), milk and sugar (sweet)

After a 30 minute gap a boiled egg (sweet) with pepper (pungent) and salt (salty)

Soaked almonds (sweet)

Lunch at noon

Yellow lentil daal (astringent) with tadka of red chilies (pungent), fenugreek seeds and cilantro (bitter), salt, and lemons (sour).

A side of yogurt (sour), optionally with a bit of sugar (sweet).

Whole wheat roti (sweet).

Dinner at 6 pm

Palak paneer (palak is pungent, paneer is sweet) with red chilies (pungent). Seasoned with garlic (astringent), salt (salty), and lemon (sour). 

Daal (astringent) garnished with cilantro and fenugreek (bitter)

Basmati rice (sweet).

Ripe mango for dessert (sweet). 

How to use the 6 tastes to balance your doshas

Both the six tastes and our doshas are formed by the five basic elements, which have twenty qualities. That’s why we can use taste to influence our doshas

In Ayurveda, excess doshas are balanced by using tastes with opposing qualities. A taste balances a dosha if the elements in the taste do not overlap with the elements in the dosha (this is known as vishesha). A taste can increase a dosha if the elements in the taste and the dosha overlap (this is known as samanya). 

The sweet, sour, and salty tastes are associated with building and nourishing our bodies. Theother three tastes contain trace elements and micronutrients and play a modulating role. They help us cleanse and remove toxins. 

VataSpace and AirDry, cold,light, subtle, coarse, rough, mobile, clear
PittaFire and WaterSlightly oily, hot, light, sharp, mobile, liquid
KaphaWater and Earth Oily, cold, heavy, soft, slimy, slow/dull, stable
Doshas, elements and associated qualities

The earth and water elements are heavy and move downwards. Space, air and fire are light elements and move upwards. 

Normally, you should eat balanced meals that contain all six tastes. The nourishing sweet taste will, by default, be generally the dominant taste in a meal.  However, if you have a dosha imbalance, you can emphasize some tastes to counter the increase of a particular dosha. Let’s go through some examples.

Balancing excess Vata

Since vata is made up of space and air, you can reduce excess vata by reducing tastes that contain those elements. You can also use a higher proportion of tastes that contain any combination of the other three elements: fire (agni), water (jala), and earth (prithvi). To balance excess vata we can use: 

  • Sweet, salty or sour tastes  
  • Selectively use the pungent taste to  spark appetite                      
  • Have warm, smooth, oily, and moist food
  • For example, you can have the sweet taste in the form of whole grains, dairy, nut milk, or ghee. Try them with different sauces of salts. You can include the pungent taste in the form of mild digestive spices such as ginger, nutmeg, and cinnamon.

Balancing excess Pitta

Since pitta is made up of fire and water, you can balance excess pitta by reducing tastes that contain those elements. You can increase tastes which contain combinations of the other three elements: space (akash), air (vayu) and earth (prithvi). Therefore, in order to balance excess pitta we can use: 

  • Bitter or astringent taste
  • Sweet taste to douse excess fire
  • Mild, dry, rough, or cool food
  • For example, have bitter foods like kale, collard greens, or dandelion root. You can have sweet things like oats, root vegetables, squashes, and ghee. You also also try astringent things like beans and broccoli, and spices like turmeric, coriander, and parsley.

Balancing excess Kapha 

Since kapha is made up of water and earth, excess kapha is balanced by reducing tastes containing those elements. You can also use a higher proportion of tastes that contain any combination from the other three elements: space, air, and fire. Therefore in order to balance excess kapha, try using: 

  • Pungent, bitter, or astringent tastes
  • Fasting and reducing excess sleep 
  • Food that is dry, rough, light, or warm
  • For example, have pungent food like mild and strong spices, chillies, peppers, garlic, clove, cumin and cinnamon. Have the astringent taste in foods like beans, cranberry, pomegranate, or dill.

This Sanskrit sloka articulates  the impact of the six tastes on the three doshas, vata, pitta and kapha.

Sanskrit sloka on countering excess doshas AH-Su

We can summarize the sloka in this chart to think about how to use tastes to balance your doshas.

For excess DoshaIncrease use of (+)Reduce use of (-)
VataSweet, Sour, SaltyBitter, Pungent, Astringent
PittaSweet, Bitter, AstringentSour, salty, Pungent
KaphaPungent, Bitter, AstringentSweet, Sour, Salty
Countering excess dosha with tastes

Making use of 6 tastes

To use the six tastes well, we have to take our constitution and doshic imbalances into account. These could be the result of many factors, such as age, season, location, lifestyle, cooking method, food combinations, potency, and the second-order effect of post digestive taste.

To learn more about implementing six tastes, Ayurveda, and other related topics, you can subscribe to our newsletter or write me a note at I offer workshops and deeper content. We also do dosha analysis to help you find your personal path to wellness.


All content is for educational purposes only. Please consult your medical practitioner before attempting any therapeutic, nutritional, exercise or meditation related activity.

Intermittent Fasting in Ayurveda

Intermittent fasting is one of today’s most popular health trends—just ask celebrities like Kourtney Kardashian or Jennifer Aniston. It has been shown to help slow aging, help with weight loss, and even lower people’s risk of having complications from COVID

In this article, we explore intermittent fasting in Ayurveda from a holistic and scientific viewpoint. Remember, you should only fast under the guidance of a medical practitioner! 

What is intermittent fasting?

Intermittent fasting is a process where people cycle between periods of eating and fasting to reduce caloric intake. 

Though “intermittent fasting” is a recently coined term, the concept has been explored in Ayurveda for milennia. For prehistoric humans, fasting was not a choice. In later civilizations, it was a part of human culture for spiritual and health reasons. Even animals fast when they are full or unwell. Our bodies are naturally adapted to periodic hunger, rather than three full meals along with multiple nibbles throughout the day.

According to Ayurveda, fasting can be used to balance doshas, remove toxins and heal the body. The fasting methods recommended for any individual depend on their strength and underlying health conditions. It’s important to remember, however, that just fasting isn’t enough. For holistic change, we also need to alter what we eat and how we live. 

There are many different variations of intermittent fasting regimes, described below. 

Types of intermittent fasting

Limited time 

Only eat within a certain time period during the day. People who follow this regime often fast for 12, 16, or 18 hours. (This form of intermittent fasting accompanies many people’s natural eating cycles. If you eat dinner at 5pm and breakfast at 7am, you are doing a fourteen-hour fast.)

Alternate day fasting

Eat as normal on one day, fast on the next day.

Whole day fasting

Abstain from food for the entirety of one day.


Eat your normal meals for five days of the week, and restrict to 500-600 calories for two days of the week. 

Scientific benefits of intermittent fasting

Periodic fasting lets our bodies reset. When we deplete our circulating blood glucose levels, we switch to stored fats as a source of energy by producing ketones, which also sends other positive signals to the body. 

Numerous research animal studies have shown that fasting can play a promising role in controlling obesity, removing toxins and aberrant cells, and reducing inflammation and blood pressure. Fasting can potentially lower risk of heart disease, stroke and cancer. It has also shown a beneficial impact on the gut bacteria. There are also benefits related to memory, improved cardio health, and control over obesity.

Regardless of your method of fasting, sustained weight loss can result only from excess calorie reduction. Excess calories, irrespective of carbs, fats, or proteins, will all end up as the body’s stored fats. This is because all nutrient sources are subject to the fully reversible nature of the body’s energy creation and storage, known as the Krebs cycle. 

What does Ayurveda say about fasting?

Ayurveda has a long history of using reduction therapy to treat diseases, focusing on removing food rather than adding food

It’s critical to note that in Ayurveda, food is not just what you put in your mouth—it includes all sensory stimuli. A holistic fast involves abstaining from food, mental, visual, and sound stimuli. By practicing restraint, we help focus the body inwards for healing and recuperation. 

If you are stressed and overstimulated, simply avoiding food will not help much. Stress and mental stimuli are seen as a precursor and are associated with all the disease conditions as a result of the involvement of the entire hormonal system. 

There are two broad types of reduction therapy. The first is Panchkarma, which involves eliminating severe toxins (ama) through vomiting, enema and other means. This is only practiced under expert supervision from Ayurvedic practitioners, for people capable of withstanding physical shock. 

We’ll focus on the second, gentler method which includes fasting. The duration of fasting depends on the individual’s physical health and underlying conditions. Fasting ignites the digestive fire, removes metabolic toxins in the digestive tract (amashaya) and gives mental clarity.

This Sanskrit sloka captures the importance given to reduction (langhana) therapies in Ayurveda. It says that “reduction therapies, if used judiciously, are the best medicine.”

Sanskrit sloka

Intermittent fasting in Ayurveda is used for numerous objectives, shown below.

  • Reducing excess body weight
  • Removing of toxins 
  • Improving mental function and memory
  • Controlling excess body discharges
  • Improving the metabolic processes
  • Controlling certain fevers
  • Controlling diseases of the stomach
  • Balancing doshas, especially  kapha
  • Promoting a calm (Saatvic) nature
  • Increasing drive, enthusiasm, mental acuity (Pitta)
Seasonal fresh produce at a local farmer’s market

How to follow Intermittent Fasting in Ayurveda

Any individual’s approach to intermittent fasting in Ayurveda will depend on their doshas and digestive fire. In general, we recommend starting with simple methods that you can continue to follow on a long term basis. With a simple approach, you’re more likely to balance, rather than disturb, your doshas. 

In general, the process makes use of three elements: space, air and fire. Space and air relate to using breathwork as well as abstaining from food. When we take a break from external stimuli, we can rekindle our mental and digestive fires. 

Eat according to the circadian clock

Eating according to your Circadian clock is a simple way to experience the benefits of intermittent fasting in Ayurveda. 

Have your heaviest meal at lunch

You should eat your heaviest meal of the day between noon and 2pm, when your digestive fire is highest. 

Eat a light, early dinner

If you eat a light, early dinner, your body will benefit from an intermittent fasting regime without much effort.

When the next morning comes, remember that there’s nothing sacred about breakfast (or any meal, for that matter). Eat if and when you feel hungry, and/or if you had your last meal at least twelve hours prior. Pay attention to the signals of your body.

Fast in the springtime

Seasonally, springtime is the best period for slightly longer fasts that are aimed at cleansing your system. In order to prevent disbalace of doshas, these fasts should be performed under expert guidance only.

Let yourself feel what hunger feels like

Fasting (upvasa) is about withdrawal. Many of us no longer know what hunger really feels like. Tune yourself to your body and let your stomach rumble to be able to better control your appetite later on. Don’t feast before and after a fast. 

Remove other stress-inducing stimuli 

Practice abstaining from mental stimuli for a certain period of time everyday using meditation, breathwork and good sleep practices. Stop scrolling over emails, text and social media messages as you lead up to sleep time. Any screen time or books ought to be used only if they relax you. Pause and let your mind digest experiences!

Introduce good food habits-six tastes  

Removing highly processed food, added sugar and salt, and excess alcohol can automatically help bring the body into balance. Try to avoid snacking throughout the day to prevent unnecessary insulin spikes in the body. 

An Ayurvedic fasting regime is about nutrient diversity from diversity along with calorie reduction. Try to incorporate the six tastes into your meals: sweet, salty, sour, bitter, astringent and pungent. 

Some recommendations about exercise

During fasting, exercise is intended to be pacifying rather than excitatory. For a healthy person who is following a gentle regime of natural fasting one can undertake normal activities. Light body resistance exercise, yoga and pranayama are all good. However, heavy physical exercise is not recommended in any extended period of fasting. 

The basic idea is that exercise is used with the aim of rejuvenation rather than burning calories. The amount and kind of exercise is determined by our dosha and body constitution (deha prakriti). 

When Parrots feast on mangoes in Goa!

Intermittent fasting in Ayurveda by dosha type

Depending on your dosha imbalances, different kinds of fasting may suit you. Food is not abandoned! Instead, you may have light food according to your constitution. The total avoidance of food and water depletes the body and strains your digestive fire.


If you have a vata imbalance, you may experience an inconsistent appetite. Vata dosha types have the lowest tolerance for fasting. Instead of full, prolonged fasts, you can try having light meals including sweet fruits and light food. You can also use dried ginger or trikatu to spark your metabolic fire.


If you have excess pitta, you may want to include foods with the astringent taste in your fast, like prune, grapes, pomegranate, or cilantro. These foods help with toxin removal. Juices and buttermilk can also be used to soothe the digestive system. 

Pitta will have low tolerance for hunger and therefore you should keep away from long periods of fasting which may leave you faint headed. The focus should instead be on correct timing and content of meals.


If you have excess kapha, you may experience sluggishness, lethargy throughout the day. Kapha types can benefit from regular intermittent fasting in Ayurveda. 

A Kapha type has greater capacity to reduce food intake unless you have a complex situation in which diabetes is also involved. You can try dried ginger or trikatu to speed up digestion as well. Periods of eating are not for aimless indulgence. 

It is important to note that what you feast on is as important as how you fast. 

What to eat while during intermittent fasting in Ayurveda

Your exact diet during fasting depends on your dosha and fitness level. Some people stop eating entirely; others have lighter and more soothing food than usual. Whatever you do, your goal should be to lighten the load on your body. 

Here are a few things from a toolkit that you may choose to consume while intermittent fasting in Ayurveda. 

  • Light liquids: Buttermilk, warm water, coconut water,  juices from single fruits like oranges, grape and pomegranate
  • Cleansing teas: coriander, cumin, fennel, Ashwagandha, tulsi 
  • Moong dal and basmati rice khichdi in thin gruel form
  • Fox Nuts sauteed in ghee as a snack
  • Sweet potatoes gently sauteed in cumin, coriander and ghee, sprinkled with lime
  • Saindhav namak (rock salt)
  • Soaked nuts like almonds
  • Fruits 
  • Ghee used sparingly serves to soothe the gastrointestinal tract, especially when toxins have been eliminated
  • Steamed vegetables sprinkled with olive oil, lemon and salt 

Ayurveda offers other types of more complicated fasts with and without water, those which rely on only fruits and longer fasts (anashana) which are outside the scope of our discussion.

Example food for a weekly one-day fast

There is no typical fast in Ayurveda. You can skip breakfast, skip lunch or dinner or skip both. You may abstain from solid food and sustain only on juices/salads; the choice is all yours in consultation with your doctor.

Here is an example of a calorie reduction one day fast that works for a Vata-Pitta constitution:




Buttermilk with saindhav salt and roasted ground cumin seeds, one sweet potato sauteed in coriander and ghee and sprinkled with lime and freshly cut coriander leaves.


Steamed broccoli, one cup of moong dal soup with one coarse grain roti (bread)

How to break your intermittent fasting in Ayurveda

When you are ready to break your fast, use something like freshly squeezed orange juice  rather than a single large meal that will overload your system. Such a heavy meal will increase vata and decrease digestive fire.

What kinds of people should not fast?

Consult your doctor, fasting is not recommended for the feeble and sick. Similarly one would have to exercise caution if one is suffering from diabetes or is on some medication. Fasting in Ayurveda is not recommended for pregnant women as it can harm fetal growth.

Excessive fasting can lead to increase in vata and conditions like diminished hearing and vision, loss of sleep and pain in joints. Muscle loss due to fasting without adequate resistance training is an active area of research. 

Ayurveda advises against fasting in conditions of fear, grief, anger and physical exertion. It leads to depletion of Ojas (akin to immunity).

To learn more about fasting, Ayurveda, and other related topics, you can subscribe to our newsletter or write me a note at I offer workshops and deeper content on sleep and other topics. We also do dosha analysis to help you find your personal path to wellness.


All content is for educational purposes only. Please consult your medical practitioner before attempting any therapeutic, nutritional, exercise or meditation related activity.