The Tongue's Higher Purpose

Ayurveda relies on taste to understand nutritive values of food and actually, all substances used for healing. Taste indicates whether it is nourishing or depleting to the body. The sense of taste readies the stomach and all bodily tissues to receive and digest properly what has entered. Our bodies naturally provide nutrient identification through the senses, smell, taste, texture...

There are six tastes: sweet, sour, salty, pungent, bitter and astringent, each having a specific action when consumed. The mouth is the first stage of digestion; salivation and maceration are essential for optimal digestion and nutrient assimilation. While chewing each bite 32 times (Iran and Japan, 52 times), the saliva is serving four functions: lubrication and formation of bolus for downward motion, initial breakdown of nutrients to be homogeneous with stomach acids and increasing sensation of taste.


With the taste of sweet, a greater quantity of saliva gathers in the mouth. Sweet taste has this action on the entire body, increasing weight, bulk, coolness and moisture. It is ideal for building all seven bodily tissues of plasma, blood, muscle, fat, bone, marrow and reproductive fluids. Foods dominate in sweet taste are not just those containing processed sugar, but are found in milk, ghee, butter, vegetables such as carrots, beets, sweet potato, squash, in ripened fruit, in most grains, but especially wheat and rice.  In Ayurveda, this is why dessert is taken before other foods, it increases the presence of first stage digestive juices, both in mouth and in stomach.  Try it, one may find they feel more fully satisfied at the end of a meal and through taking dessert first, one may also find less of a tendency to overeat.


Sour taste, also has the action of nourishing all tissues of the body, with the exception of reproductive tissues. Sour taste by nature is moist, hot and light.  We can experience that when putting a lemon to our mouth: increased salivation, hot as in stinging and swelling with too much lemonade, and light on the digestion. Often sour taste sparks our desire for more. Used in moderation, it stimulates metabolism, circulation, elimination and aids in iron absorption. We find sour taste in citrus fruits, wine, vinegar, pickles, soy sauce, and fermented milk products, to name a few. Try squeezing a bit of lemon on each meal to assist in aiding the body's digestive ability.


A pinch of salt on the tongue: increased salivation, but also a sense of dryness, thirst and heat. We want a sip of water after that, despite the experience of increased salivation. Salt maintains mineral balance, dilates the channels of circulation and absorption, along with perception of taste. Salt attracts water accumulation, thereby lubricating tissues, while also breaking up mucous; for instance, like gargling with warm salt water when suffering through a sore throat. While gargling, salt acts as an expectorant for mucous build up, while leaving the throat feeling soft and comfortable, instead of dried out. We can witness salt’s digestive effect while cooking. For example, sautéing garlic, onions and carrots, waiting for the right moment to add next ingredients, they are taking forever to cook, but then when salt has been added, suddenly everything is changed. What was dry and rather dull looking, is now bright with colour and juices and cooking time has greatly decreased. Next time you cook, pay attention to what is happening in your cooking pot, it's not that different from what is happening in your stomach.


Pungent taste will raise the temperature, along with the temper.  Be careful already fiery folk, you may find yourself snappy after eating too much spice. In small amounts pungent taste increases metabolism, digestion, opens channels, increases circulation and alleviates muscle pain. We find pungent taste in foods and spices like garlic, onions, ginger, black pepper, cayenne, also present in things like wine and pickles. This can have a positive action on increasing blood circulation, but in excess we may begin to see things like high blood pressure and anemia.


Bitter taste is light, cooling and dry. When eating all those leafy greens, kale, chard, dandelion, one would have to eat a vast quantity before feeling full, this is due to their light and drying qualities. Some other foods with bitter taste include, coffee, tea, olives, turmeric and fenugreek. A demonstration of bitter being cooling: dandelion broth is often effective in lowering a fever. The bitter taste is a detox agent, having powerful anti-parasitic, anti-septic and anti-biotic qualities. It alleviates fever, rashes, oozing, nausea, water retention and weight. In excess, it will increase dryness in the body, contributing to constipation, dry skin, wrinkles, muscle and joint pain, amongst other imbalances.


Astringent taste is the least common of all the six tastes. Biting into an unripe persimmon would be an example of astringent at its best: dry, puckering, chalky. We find astringent taste in pomegranates, asparagus, artichoke, buckwheat, quinoa, legumes and a variety of other foods, although astringent would not be their dominate flavour. Astringent taste has a tightening, cleansing, cooling and toning effect on the body, although not considered as cooling as the bitter taste. 

In the case of vitamins and supplements in pill form, often the taste of the supplement does not match the intended action. If you are taking a supplement for nourishment and vitality, but it is bitter in taste, your body will identify it as depleting and assimilate it as such. This explains the great emphasises by Ayurveda on accessing vitamins and minerals from fresh food by tongue contact, chewing, swallowing.

Ayurveda suggests all six tastes be present in each meal, thereby creating satisfaction and ensuring that each tissue has received its needed nourishment. With this practice, snacking and cravings through the day will greatly decrease and can help effectively manage healthy weight, without crash dieting or feeling deprived. Energy levels and emotional temperament generally became more balanced. Upon understanding food qualities and actions of taste, using food as medicine can be considerably effective.

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