According to Ayurveda, there are six tastes, each of which should be included in a balanced diet. Each of these six tastes have specific actions upon the three biological humours, or doshas (Vata, Pitta and Kapha).
How much of each dosha our body produces depends largely on how much of each taste we include in our food. Once ingested, tastes do not disappear from the food after it has been digested, but continue to influence our physical and emotional balance. The six tastes are sweet, sour, salty, pungent (hot), bitter and astringent. Each of the taste is made of a combination of two of the five elements.
The sweet taste is found in sugar and carbohydrates. It increases Kapha and decreases Vata and Pitta. It is a cooling taste, which helps in building body tissues. In excess, it builds toxins and causes obesity. It promotes a sense of contentment and is associated with the emotion of love. It is made of the elements earth and water
The sour taste is found in fermented food and acidic fruit. It increases Kapha and Pitta and decreases Vatta. It is a heating taste, which counters thirst, helps maintain acidity and improves appetite and digestion. In excess, it increases acidity. It is a stimulant and is associated with the emotion of envy (sour grapes). It is made of the elements earth and fire.
The salty taste is found in table salt and sea weed. It increases Kapha and Pitta and decreases Vata. It is a slightly heating taste, which maintains proper metabolism, help cleanse the body and improves appetite and digestion. In excess is causes looseness. It is associated with the emotion of greed. It is made of the elements water and fire
Pungent / Hot (Katu)
The hot taste is found in hot spices, like red pepper or ginger. It increases Pitta and Vata and decreases Kapha. It is a heating taste, which improves metabolism, appetite and digestion. In excess it causes burning and increases irritability and anger. It is associated with the emotions of hatred. It is made of the elements air and fire.
The bitter taste is found in some herbs, like aloe vera or golden seal. It decreases Pitta and Kapha and increases Vata. It is a cooling and drying taste, which tones the organs, increases appetite and is detoxifying. In excess, it damages the heart and is anti-aphrodisiac. It is associated with the emotion of grief and disappointment (a bitter pill). It is made of the elements air and water.
The astrigent taste is found in some herbs. Most green vegetables are also regarded as astringent. It decreases Kapha and Pitta and increases Vata. It is a cooling taste, which reduces secretions, particularly sweating. In excess, it causes dryness and thirst. It is associated with the emotion of fear. It is made of the elements air and earth.
In the West, we tend not to consume enough food with bitter, pungent and astringent tastes, and to consume too much food with sweet and salty tastes, causing imbalance. One should also emphasize some of the tastes and avoid others, according to their own ayurvedic constitution (Prakriti).
The tastes should be eaten in the following order: First sweet, then salty, then sour and pungent, and finally bitter and astringent.