Beyond flavour: Health benefits of different tastes

Taste is one of the most important aspects of our relationship with food, yet its significance goes way beyond as well.

There are six different tastes that exist - sweet, sour, salty, bitter, pungent and astringent. A balance of all six is recommended to maintain good health. But did you know that there is no single food or herb that contains within it, all six tastes? The closest that can be found in Nature are two fruits - Amla, the Indian Gooseberry and Harad, the Chebulic Myrobalan – that have five (sweet, sour, bitter, pungent and astringent) out of the six tastes. All six tastes work differently in our body and are distinct in their own way. It is important to include all of them in our daily diet to attain a healthy state of being, but we must also exercise caution in the quantities of each that we consume. 

Prior to my understanding of the science behind six tastes, the taste of food was only important to make it palatable. Now however, I try and ensure the presence of all six tastes as I know that sweet (carbohydrates, proteins and fats) will nourish my body;. sour (organic acids: citric acid, ascorbic acid, citric acid) will stimulate saliva secretion and digestion; salty(mineral salts) will stimulate digestion and cleanse the body; bitter (alkaloids or glycosides) will help detoxify the body; pungent (essential oils) will help maintain metabolism; and astringent (tannins) will help heal the body and reduce fat deposition.


Given below is insight into all the tastes, along with foods they’re present in and the effect they have on our bodies.

Taste of food  Food Sources Effects on Body & Mind

Sweet

Most grains, rice, fruits (like banana, ripe mango, chikoo, grapes, guava), milk & milk products, starchy vegetables, sweet potato, carrot and sugarcane.
  1. Builds tissues, nourishes the body, renews, develops and promotes cell growth, and satiates hunger
  2. Relaxes the nervous system
  3. Promotes muscular strength

Excess intake of sweet food may cause obesity, diabetes, lethargy and anxiety.

Bitter

Green leafy vegetables, spinach, kale, bitter melon, fenugreek, neem, sprouts, beetroot, coffee, dark chocolate.
  1. Detoxifies the body and enhances the function of five body senses.
  2. Kills bacteria and infection, relieves skin ailments 
Excess intake of bitter food may cause gas or stomach problems

Pungent

Ginger, mustard. onion, garlic, black pepper, clove, chili peppers
  1. Promotes sweating and clears the sinus passages; helps in eliminating body waste.
  2. Keeps the mouth clean, stimulates appetite & maintains the metabolism
  3. Fights infection and cures itching 
  4. Ensures proper actions of all senses

Excess intake of pungent food may cause excess thirst, weakness, irritation and anger.

Astringent

Blackberries, beans, peas, lentils, apples, broccoli, turmeric, rye, cauliflower, asparagus, dried fruit, pomegranate, bael fruit, teas.
  1. Heals the body due to its constructive nature
  2. Absorbs water and tightens tissues, helps in reducing fat

Excess intake of astringent food may cause gas, constipation, thirst, anxiety, fear and insomnia.

Sour

Lemon, pear, pomegranate, berries, tomatoes, amla, banana, yoghurt, butter milk, leafy green vegetables.
  1. Stimulates appetite
  2. Causes salivation, helps in swallowing, moistening and digestion of food
  3. Cleanses tissues by eliminating wastes from the body.

Excess intake of sour food may cause loss of strength, and psychological effects such as jealousy, anger and impatience.

Salty

Zucchini, Cucumber, tomatoes, natural salt (rock salt) and most high-water content vegetables & fruits.
  1. Improves the taste of food and stimulates digestion
  2. Cleanses the bodily tissues, removes obstructions and opens the natural passages of the fluids of the body
  3. Makes the body supple and lubricates tissues, brings tenderness and cures stiffness
  4. Relaxes nerves and reduces anxiety

Excess intake of salty food may cause thirst, loss of strength, anger, lethargy and irritation.

 

Thus, we understand that the taste of food goes far beyond the palatability of it. We must give due respect to what we eat as food is the medium of all the positive and negative changes in our physical and mental health. The knowledge on taste of food is as crucial as medicine. Simply by eating right food, one can remain healthy and happy. Therefore, before starting a meal, always pause and reflect on what is in your plate; try to include all six tastes and stay healthy.

Sweta Srivastava is Devang’s Health Care Research Expert. Sweta has received her Graduate degree in Biological Science & Post-graduate degree in Environmental Science from the University of Allahabad. She is studying, working and researching into the field of herbs and healthcare science since more than twelve years. She strongly believes and follows the herbal therapy to eradicate any kind of ailments.


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