Taste or rasa of a food substance is the feeling that we experience when we put the substance in our month. There are 6 types of rasas:
1. Sweet (Madhura rasa): Any food that is nourishing and brings satisfaction, generally, has a sweet taste. Eating sweet foods will bring on kapha qualities in the body-coldness, heaviness (by adding fat), steadiness and physical energy. Sweet foods are also soothing. They move the bowels and have the diuretic effect. If you are in a nervous and unsettled mood which is a sign of aroused vaata, sweet will calm you; it also puts out the fire of pitta and is considered as a brain tonic. However, too much sugar is not stabilising; it aggravates kapha, which produces lethargy. Excess of sweet causes greed and emotional dependence. Too much sweet becomes nauseating and leads to obesity, loss of appetite, respiratory disorders, goitre, swelling of lymph nodes, diabetes, worms etc. In the case of any kapha imbalance, sweets should be reduced or avoided. Example of sweet foods are rice, dal, jaggery, sugar, milk, honey, tubers, eggs, mango, bananas, apricots.
2. Sour (Amla rasa): Drugs and diet with sour taste stimulate appetite and add taste to food. They expel the gas and combat anorexia. They can be used as anti-coagulants. Though it is refreshing to eat sour food, if consumed in excess, it increases thirst, which is the character of aggravated pitta. It can cause burning sensation in throat and chest. One has to drink lot of water to quell this heat. This in turn promotes fluid retention and swellings. The sharp qualities of pitta, such as sharp intellect and wittiness, are increased by sour foods. But too much pitta is connected with resentment and envy. Anaemia, haemorrhage, vertigo, and defects of the vision are the common disorders caused by excessive use of sour food. Examples of sour foods are lime, tomato, citrus fruits, etc.
3. Salty (Lavana rasa): Salt increases both pitta and kapha. In small amounts, its taste adds relish to food, and starts the flow of saliva and stomach juices. However, excessive salt will make it harder to control food cravings. By making you eat extra, salt adds fat and leads to overweight. Salt also makes your body heavy, causing impotence, grey hair, premature wrinkling, falling of hair, haemorrhage, skin diseases, and gastric disorders. Excess salt is generally associated with cravings and uncontrollable desires. Examples are pickles and papad.
4. Pungent (Katu rasa): Pungency of hot and spicy food causes a burning sensation (the heating effect of aggravated pitta) and thirst (the drying effect of aggravated vaata). It stimulates the body and makes fluids—sweat, tears, saliva, mucus and the blood flow freely. So, digestion increases and congested tissues are cleaned out. In spite of these good qualities, if used in excess, pungency can cause harm—eating a raw chilli causes swollen hps, burning skin, hot sweat and even impotence. Too much spicy food makes you thirsty, dizzy and unsettled. Examples of pungent foods are pepper, ginger, chillies, onions, garlic, etc.
5. Bitter (Tikta rasa): Bitter foods instantly make the palate crave for more satisfying tastes. It speeds up digestion. When the body becomes toxic, inflamed, hot, or itchy due to pitta aggravation, bitter taste is the best corrective. (Bitter giloy and quinine-bark soothe fever, for instance). But, if used in excess, bitter aggravates vaata, leading to characteristic vaata complaints—loss of appetite, weight loss, headache, unsteadiness, dry skin, debility, and dryness of the mouth. Examples of bitter foods are karela, methi, turmeric, spinach & spices.
6. Astringent (Kashaaya rasa): Astringent, the taste that makes our mouth dry, is not familiar to many. Astringency is light and sedative and causes granulation, absorption, and stiffness. This taste is cooling and constrictive; stops the flow of secretions such as sweat and tears. In excess, its constricting effect may lead to vaata complains such as constipation and dry mouth, along with gas or abdominal bloating. Astringent taste controls excitement. However, if you take in excess, astringency makes you shrivel. The sudden condition when you are seized by fear and the dry mouth that anxiety brings, are both astringent qualities. Examples of astringent foods are lentils, tea, broccoli beans, cabbage, cauliflower etc.
It is advisable to change your diet a bit so that all the six rasas are represented in your meal without repetition and monotony. A balanced diet is one that contains all the six tastes (shat-rasas).For example, even if you have only two chapattis and boiled vegetables a day, you do not lose weight because both wheat and vegetables have sweet taste that prevents weight loss. Or even being on a diet of salads, one gets constipation because there is no lubrication in the diet. A little cow ghee added to the salads prevents putting on weight and facilitates bowel movements everyday.