Six Tastes Of Ayurveda: Qualities, Benefits, Therapeutic Action (Shad Rasa)

Many of the therapeutic actions of Ayurvedic medicines are explained by the taste of the medicine / herb. For example, Guduchi – Indian Tinospora acts as anti-fever herb, because of its bitter taste. So, taste in Ayurveda is not only meant for explain it as a feature, but it is also a tool to explain pharmacology (how a medicine acts).

“A physician, well acquainted with the combinations of Rasa (taste) and Doshas, seldom commits blunders in ascertaining the etiology, symptoms and treatment of diseases.” – Charaka Samhita Sutrasthana 26th chapter.

Root Element For Taste: All tastes have their root in water element.  It does not mean that totally dry, powders do not have taste. It only means that all the matters have water as an element in its subtle atomic level.  

  • Smell – solid as basic element
  • Sound – ether / emptiness as basic element
  • Vision – fire as basic element
  • Touch – air as basic elementIndriya arthaIndriya artha

Taste Definition Rasa Nirukti

The word rasa means taste, but it also have other meanings like rasadhatu, paradha etc.
“Rasyate aswadhyate rasanayaha rasendriyena eti Rasa”
That means the particular sense object, which is perceived by the tongue, is called rasa or the guna, which can be perceived by the rasanendriya, is called rasa.

Nirukthi: Definition of Rasa:
Rasa action occurs immediately after exposure to Rasanendriya (tongue).
So, the first impression formed over the tongue by the substance, is the taste of the substance.

Definition of Rasa:
Rasa is the special sense known through the Rasna or Rasanendriya (tongue or taste buds). Taste is the direct action of a drug on the nerve endings in the mucous membrane of the mouth.

Rasa is Apya (born from water element) and is not manifested in the beginning. Due to six  seasons, the basic elements combine in varying proportions to form particular tastes in herbs.

Identification, Variation

How to identify Rasa?
The taste of an herb should be measured by taking the dry sample of the herb.
The fresh herb will have lot of moisture in it. The excess moisture will dilute the phyto-chemicals, thus diluting the taste of the herb. Hence, to determine the taste of an herb, dry sample is preferred.

The taste that you clearly feel and perceive at the beginning and at the end of tongue contact, is the taste of the substance.

Taste variation as per place and time
Sometimes, in different Ayurvedic text books, you may find the same herb, explained to be having different tastes. This may be because, the authors may be from different places with different climatic conditions. Orange may be more sour in some place, and less sour, more sweet in some other. The context of such explanation should also be taken into consideration. For example: if an author explains – sour mango, he is referring to unripe fruit and if someone is referring to sweet mango, then he is talking about ripe one.

Shad Rasa – Six Tastes:

As per Ashtanga Hrudayam Sutrasthana 1st chapter,
रसाः स्वाद्वम्ललवण तिक्तोषणकषायकाः॥१४॥
षड् द्रव्यमाश्रितास्ते च यथापूर्वं बलावहाः ।

rasāḥ svādvamlalavaṇa tiktoṣaṇakaṣāyakāḥ||14||
ṣaḍ dravyamāśritāste ca yathāpūrvaṃ balāvahāḥ |

There are 6 types of tastes (Rasa) mentioned –

Svadu / Madhura – sweet,
Amla – Sour,
Lavana – Salt,
Tikta – Bitter,
Ushna / Katu – Pungent,
Kashaya – Astringent.
They are successively lower in energy. It means, Sweet taste imparts maximum energy to body and astringent, the least.


Anurasa – sub-taste:
When such a taste is not distinctly perceived, but is inferred only by its actions, it is known as Anurasa (after-taste).

  • Eg:
  • Honey has astringent sub-taste
  • Rice – astringent sub taste – causes mild constipation (A. Hr. Sutrasthana 6th chapter)

Taste is a quality, that resides in the substance:
In describing tastes, it is told that Madhura rasa (sweet taste) increase Kapha Dosha. By this, it actually means that the sweet taste, residing in the food substance increases Kapha. The taste itself is not acting directly, but the substance is causing this effect, due to the taste that it contains.
So, taste is a quality that resides in the substance. Action is always attributed to the substance, and not to its quality (including taste).

Include all tastes in your meal

It is told that the food should have all six tastes – sweet, sour, salt, pungent, bitter and astringent. Can you give a meal example comprising all six tastes? 
Dr JV Hebbar

Before we begin, I want to emphasize that sweets need not be like a pastry / cake / bagel like sweets. Rice is said to have a sweet taste as per Ayurveda. 
The point is, while imagining the six tastes, you need not imagine extreme examples of each taste. 
There is an Ayurvedic rule that our food should have all six tastes. But there is no rule that all six tasting substances should be of equal quantities. So, something like a lemon pickle, prepared with a bit of chilli and pepper powder adds both sweet and spicy taste to your meal. 
The ingredients need not be all solid, it can be juice, soup, broth or even cooking oil. 
One ingredient may have two tastes. Eg: Sesame seed and oil have bitter and astringent tastes. Turmeric has a bitter and mild spicy taste. 
Amla fruit has five tastes except salt. 

Commonly used sweet tasting ingredients in a meal: 
Milk, ghee, rice, corn, wheat, green gram, barley, sweet fruits, peanut, coconut, coconut oil, etc. 

Sour tasting ingredients: 
Tamarind, raw mango (pickle), lemon (pickle, juice, lemon rice), pomegranate, grapes, amla fruit, curd, etc. 

Salt – All types of salts 
Pungent – All types of spices. If you cannot tolerate strong spices, milder ones like cumin, turmeric, cinnamon, dill seeds can be useful. 
Bitter: Bitter gourd, eggplant, coriander, curry leaves, pointed gourd, dandelion greens, turmeric, citrus peel, cranberries, cocoa, almond oil, olive oil etc. 
Astringent – buttermilk, nutmeg, tur dal (pigeon pea), green tea, horse gram, apple, cranberries, Indian bean etc.      

A typical Indian meal with
cooked rice,
dal, rasam, sambhar, sabji (cooked vegetable salad) – seasoned with spices, turmeric, curry leaves etc.
curd or buttermilk would contain all the six tastes. 
Based on the ingredients available in your country, making a list of food ingredients, categorizing them into different tastes and using a mix of them, is very good for health.

Tastes, Panchamahabhuta relation

Types of taste:
When ancient Ayurvedic seers sat down to decide on the number of taste, there was a big debate and each one had different views. You can find the entire detail of their discussion in  Later, it was concluded that there are only six tastes.
They are –
Madhura / Swadu – Sweet,
Amala – Sour,
Lavana – Salt,
Katu – Pungent,
Tikta – Bitter and
Kashaya – Astringent

Genesis of Rasa from five basic elements;
As per Ayurveda, all the tastes originate from water element. It reacts with other elements in the object to give rise to specific tastes.

Predominance of basic elements in individual Rasa:
As per Ayurveda, all the tastes originate from water element. It reacts with other elements in the object to give rise to specific tastes.
All the tastes have Jala Mahabhuta (water element) dominance.

Each one of the shadrasa is constituted or originated by the combination of two of the panchamahabhuta. The natural phenomenon of panchamahabhuta is that by distinguish characteristic combination, a distinct rasa is originated.

Sweet taste – Madhura rasa = Prithvi + Ap (earth + water)
Sour taste – Amla rasa = Prathvi + Agni (earth + fire)
Salt taste – Lavana Rasa = Jala and Agni  (water + fire)
Pungent taste – Katu Rasa = Vayu + Agni (air and fire)
Bitter taste – Tikta Rasa = Vayu + Akasha (air and ether)
Astringent taste – Kashaya Rasa = Vayu and Prithvi (air and earth).

What this means?

  • If a substance is solid, it will have more of solid and water components in it. If it is bitter in taste, it indicates that it has more of air and ether components in it.
  • In case of sweet, it is composed of solid and water. Both are heavy elements. Hence, sweet tasting substances are generally heavy to digest. They bring in stability to the body. Similarly, bitter tasting substances are light to digest, because air and ether – both are very light in nature. They bring in lightness to the body.
  • Sweet is formed by solid and cold, so together, they bring about coolness. Pungent taste has air and fire, hence pungent tasting things like chilli is usually hot in nature.

No substance has a single taste –
A substance has all the five basic elements but a few are dominant. Based on this dominance, a particular taste / tastes become more evident than the other. A substance need not necessarily have one particular taste. For example, Indian gooseberry (Amla) has five tastes. (except salt).

Six tastes of Ayurveda

Season specific dominance

Dominance of tastes in particular seasons –
What this means?
The sweetness of substances is more in early winter.

The effect of sweetness of a substance is more on body in early winter, than any other month.

Effect on Tridosha

Alleviation of Dosha According to Taste:
तत्राद्या मारुतं घ्नन्ति त्रयस्तिक्तादयः कफम्॥१५॥
कषायतिक्तमधुराः पित्तमन्ये तु कुर्वते ।
शमनं कोपनं स्वस्थहितं द्रव्यमिति त्रिधा॥१६॥
tatrādyā mārutaṃ ghnanti trayastiktādayaḥ kapham||15||
kaṣāyatiktamadhurāḥ pittamanye tu kurvate |
śamanaṃ kopanaṃ svasthahitaṃ dravyamiti tridhā||16||

In the list of tastes, the first three, i.e. Madhura (sweet), Amla (sour) and Lavana (salt) mitigates Vata and increases Kapha.
The last three, i.e. Tikta (bitter), Katu (pungent) and Kashaya (astringent) tastes mitigate Kapha and increases Vata.
Kashaya (astringent), Tikta (bitter) and Madhura (sweet) tastes mitigate Pitta.
Amla (sour), Lavana (salt) and Katu (pungent) tastes increase Pitta.

Effect of tastes on Tridosha –
Sweet, sour and salt tastes increase Kapha Dosha and decrease Vata Dosha.
Pungent, bitter and astringent tastes increase Vata Dosha and pacify Kapha Dosha.
Sour, salt and pungent tastes increase Pitta Dosha.
Sweet, bitter and astringent tastes decrease Pitta Dosha.

Taste qualities

Qualities of Sweet taste
Sweet is congenial to the body, it is wholesome, improves body fluid, blood, muscle, fat, bone, marrow, Ojas, and nourishes male and female reproductive systems. It improves life expectancy, soothes all the sense organs and mind, improves strength.

Qualities of sour taste –
Sour improves taste of food, digestion strength, nourishes the body, improves enthusiasm, pleases mind, strengthens sense organs. Read in detail about sour taste

Salt qualities:
Salt aids in digestion, causes moistening effect, scraping effect, excision effect, breaks down, piercing, sharp etc. Read more about salt taste

Pungent qualities:
Pungent taste cleanses mouth, improves digestion strength, dries up food, causes watering of nose, causes lacrimation, sharpens sense organs
cure diseases like Alasaka (intestinal toper), inflammation, obesity, urticaria, chronic conjunctivitis. Read more about pungent taste

Bitter qualities:
Though not so good to taste, when taken, it improves taste in the person, detoxifies, kills germs and worms, relieves unconsciousness, burning sensation, itching and skin disorders, relieves thirst, strengthens and stabilizes body, useful in fever, digestive and carminative, cleanses and detoxifies breast milk. Read more about bitter taste

Astringent qualities: 
Calming, healing, absorbing, constipative, wound healing, bone healing, causes pressure on body parts, dries up moisture, blocking, useful in bleeding disorders. Read more about astringent taste

Relative superiority of Tastes based on certain qualities:
For Dryness quality (Rookshana), Kashaya (astringent) is best, Katu (pungent) is medium and Tikta (bitter) is inferior.
For hotness quality (Ushna) – lavana (salt) is superior, sour is medium and Katu (pungent) is inferior
For Unctuousness, oiliness (Snigdha) quality, Sweet is superior, salt is medium and sour is inferior
For Cooling quality (sheeta),  Sweet – Astringent – Bitter
For Heaviness (guru)  – Sweet-  Astringent – salt
For lightness (laghu) – bitter  – Pungent – Sour

Elimination of waste products:
Owing to their unctuousness (oiliness), sweet, sour and saline tastes are useful for the elimination of flatus, urine and stool.
On the other hand, pungent, bitter and astringent tastes create difficulty in the elimination of flatus, stool, urine and semen in view of their drying property.

Order of taste consumption

Order of taste consumption and reasoning –
Question: Even today the order of serving the food in Indian custom, and also in other Auspicious functions all over the Nation(i think) is as indicated in Ayurveda- A sweet food(payasam)-sour and salt (sambar-rasam-curry)-Pungent,Bitter  and Astringent(buttermilk-pickle)-followed by Betel leaves and Nut(astringent).So Great we are that we still follow what our Ancient Seers (the athours of Ayur-veda) instructed us. Can you please tell the logic behind this order?

Answer: Ayurveda recommends taking sweet, sour, salt, pungent, bitter and astringent taste foods in this same order, while having food.
When we are hungry and are about to start eating, the digestion strength is at peak. Sweet, sour and salt, being heavy in nature, if they are consumed first, the digestion strength will be better utilized to digest these tastes. Pungent, bitter and astringent foods, take a bit less strength to digest, hence, they are advised to be taken at the second half of meals.

Importance of taste in health and disease:
Health of the person is mainly depended upon rasa (taste) because Eka rasabhyasa – eating foods with only one taste will cause all the diseases whereas, incorporating foods with all the six tastes leads to good health.

Characteristics of Rasa

Madhura rasa – sweet taste:
Local action – smears the tongue and oral cavity.
Sense organs – Pleases the sense organs
Body – Pleases the body

Amla rasa: Sour taste
Mouth – Stimulates and increases salivation
Sense organs – Causes contraction of eyes and eyebrows
Body –  Produces thrill even looking by it
Chest and throat – produces burning sensation

Lavana rasa – salt taste:
Mouth – Causes overflow
Sense organs – Produces appetite
Body – Produces burning sensation
Chest and throat –

Katu rasa – Pungent taste:
Mouth – Produces irritation and burning sensation
Sense organs – Induces secretion from eyes and nose
Body – produces burning sensation

Tikta rasa – Bitter taste:
Mouth – Clears the mouth and tongue
Sense organs – Produces numbness in tongue, later stimulates sense organs
Body – cleanses throat

Kashaya rasa – Astringent taste:
Mouth – Produces dryness and constriction of tongue
Sense organs – Constriction and dryness
Body – drying
Chest and throat – chocking sensation, pain in chest

Characteristics of rasa:
Rasa perception is the characterstic feature of Rasa. It is basically provided by two bhuta’s, Jala and Prithvi. Indriyartha of Rasanendriya is also characterized as Rasa.

Among them (rasa’s) swadu is understood by its adhering to the inside of the month when put into it adhering to providing a feeling of contentment to body and sense organs.
Amla (Sour) makes the mouth watery, causes horripilations and tingling to the teeth, and leads to closing of the eyes brows.
Lavana (Salt) causes more moisture in the mouth (salivation) and burning sensation in cheeks and throat.
Tikta (Bitter) cleanses the mouth and destroys the organs of taste.
Katu (pungent) stimulates the tip of the tongue, causes irritation, brings out secretions from the eyes, nose and mouth, and causes burning sensation of the cheeks.
Kashaya (Astringent) in activates the tongue and causes obstructions of passage in the throat.

Anurasa taste:
The one which is directly perceived is called rasa, whereas rasas which are not perceptible at first but it will found at the last. This founding rasa is called as anurasa

Characteristics of anurasa:
Anurasa is either unmanifested or is manifested in small proportion.
Anurasa doesn’t remain in dravya in its dry state. For eg: The sweet anurasa of dry pippali will not persists.

Rasa, Anurasa difference

Difference between Rasa and Anu Rasa:
Rasa is well appreciated in dry state, Anurasa is appreciated in wet state of herb
Rasa is expressed or perceived in the first stage and Anurasa is perceived at the end.
Rasa is experienced immediately, Anurasa is experienced lately
Rasa is the predominant taste, Anurasa is secondary.

Composition (Pancha bhoutika of Rasa): Rasa’s have their evolution in a systemic fashion. It is believed that water in the clouds is devoid of any taste. As it reaches the earth it will associate with other panchamahabhutas in specific proportions and give rise to six tastes.

  • Sweet taste – Madhura rasa = Prithvi + Ap (earth + water)
  • Sweet = earth + water
    Sour taste – Amla rasa = Prathvi + Agni (earth + fire)
  • Sour = earth + fire
    Salt taste – Lavana Rasa = Jala and Agni  (water + fire)
  • Salt = water + fire
  • Pungent taste – Katu Rasa = Vayu + Agni (air and fire)
  • Spicy = air + fire
  • Bitter taste – Tikta Rasa = Vayu + Akasha (air and ether)
  • Bitter = air + ether
  • Astringent taste – Kashaya Rasa = Vayu and Prithvi (air and earth).
  • Astringent = air + earth

Badantha Nagarjuna mentioned Agni & Vayu for Kashaya rasa while others described it as prithvi + Vayu.
As mentioned earlier the basic elements represent the elements and compounds. According to modern chemistry, tastes are  due to chemicals.

For ex. Madhura rasa is carbohydrates, Lavana in salts, Amla rasa in acids etc. If carefully evaluated the ancient concept will be measuring with present scientific views:
Madhura Rasa – Sugar C6H12O6. 24 H20 (Prithvi + Jala)
Amla Rasa – Ch3CooH (Agni + Jala)
Lavana Salt- Nace (Agni + Prithvi)
Sodium is Agni and chlorine with pungent smell is prithvi. They together form salt. Above formula indicates anhydrous salt.
It is hydrated salt then Nace + H20 (Agni + Jala)
Katu Rasa -NH + CH (Agni + Vayu)
Tikta Rasa – S (Akasha + Vayu)
Kashaya Rasa -OH + COOH = Astingent (Vayu + Prithvi) Carbohydrates such as sucrose, glycogen and starch are sweet in taste. Sugars are soluble in water, crystalline compounds and are also sweet in taste.

Tannins are soluble in water and have astringent taste. Volatile oils may have pungent taste. Eg. Black mustard, bark of cinnamomum etc., Alkoloids are generally bitter in taste, Triglycosides Alkaloids are generally bitter in taste, triglycosides possessing bitter taste are called bitter glycosides.

Bhautik composition of Rasa

Assessment of Bhoutik Composition of Rasas:
The Bhoutik Composition of Rasas is assessed through inference only. Based on pharmacological actions, of a particular rasa its composition area:
Ushnatwa and abhishyandatwa of Lavana Rasa contain (Agni + Jala)
Urdhwa bhaya hara property of vamana dravya’s will give inference about Agni, Vayu and Akasha bhutas and Adho bhago has property of virechana dravyas include (prithvi & Jala) bhutas.
Through Madhura rasa Kapha aggraration is seen which is result of Jala mahabhuta. Similarly it subsides pitta which is agneya in nature. This aspect gives us inference that madhura rasa is made up of prithvi and Jala.

Number of Rasa

Analytical determination of Number of Rasa’s:
Generally it is accepted that rasa’s are six in number
From charaka Samhita it is evident that acharya punarvasu Athreya convened a symposium of Rasa Sankhya.

Only one type of taste – based on source (Yoni) – Apya (water element) – Atreya Bhadrakapya.
Two types of taste – Chedaneea (cleansing), Upashamaneeya (calming) – Shakunteya Brahmana
Three types of taste – Chedaniya, upashamniya, Sasharana (neutral) – Purnaksha moudgalya
Four types of taste –  Based on sweet – Swadu Hita (sweet, congenial to the body), Swadu Ahita (sweet, but not congenial to the body), Aswadu Hita (not sweet but congenial to the body), Aswadu ahita (not sweet and not congenial to the body) – Hiranyaksha koushika

Five types of tastes based on basic elements – Earth, water, fire, air and vacuum (Bhouma, Udaka, Agneya,
Vayarya, Akasiya) – Kumarasira Bharadwaja

Six types of taste, based on qualities –
Guru (heavy), Laghu (light),
Sheeta (cold), Ushna (hot)
Snigdha (unctuous), Rooksha (dryness) – as per Varyovida Raja

Seven tastes –
Madhura, Amla, Lavana, Katu, Tikta, Kashaya, Kshara (alkali)- Nimi (King of Videha)
Eight types of taste –  M+A+L+K+T+K+K (Above7) + Ayakta (unexpressed) – Badisha Dhamargava

Tastes are innumerable due to Indefinite no of rasas  – Kankayana, Physician from Bahlika Desha

Bhadra Kapya’s view is that Rasa and Jala are one and same and there is no difference between them. But Jala is Adhara, Rasa is Aadeya.

Shakunteya’s view is that chedaniya or Langhana and upashamaniya or Brimhana are rasas. They are considered as pharmacological properties.

Moudaglya included Sadharana guna to above two i.e. (Chedaniya’s upashamaniya) to the above two properties and considered 3 rasas. Since they are treated as pharmacological properties

Hiranyaksha proposed 4 rasas as above mentioned in the table but they are only qualities and not rasa.
Kumarasira Bharadwaja proposed that rasas are five on the basis of panchamahabhutas. Rasa alone can not posses any other quality like dravya. Therefore rasa cannot be fire as described by Bharadwaja.

Varyoridas view is that six main gunas among guruadi gunas are six rasas. There are six qualities but not tastes.
Nimi proposed seven rasas among first 6 are tastes while kshara is part and force of lavana.

Badisha Dhamargava expressed his view that Ayakya rasa along with previous seven tastes will make no of tastes as eight. Whereas different tastes can be denoted as primary, secondary

Kankayana from Persian Gulf proposed that tastes are infinite no.s since their base properties, action – etc., His view state that since every taste should reside in its own Ashraya.

After contradicting various concepts / views proposed by other Acharyas, Punarvasu atreya concluded symposium by confirming that rasas are six only.

Vaghbhata’s view:
He concluded that rasas are six only. He quotes that constituents of madhura skandha contains ghrita, Taila, guda – etc., do not posses, exactly similar sweetness. Since sweetness varies from one form to another. Rasas are innumerable in no. This is due to dominance; Guru guna remains guru guna though there is Tama, Tara, properties. Rasas are only six and there are no varieties.

Badhanta Nagarjuna’s View:
He explained six rasa with the help of pratyaksha pramana and aptopadesha. That day to day life one can experience only six tastes. On review of literature (Brihat Trayee) only six rasa (Madhura, Amla, Lavana, Katu, Tikta, Kashaya) are mentioned.

Modern View:
Taste or gustatory function is closely interlinked with smell according to physiology. The common chemical sensibility is observed between smell and taste, in nose and mouth respectively. The common chemical stimulus is carried by trigeminal nerve endings. In absence of olfaction taste sensation will be altered. (e.g. during rhinitis) tongue is mainly concerned with taste. They bear taste buds.

Ace to modern physiology there are only four primary tastes ies sweet, bitter, sour and sale others accept another two metallic and alkaline. The taste but is about fall in length and 50 Ph in breadth. They are categorized to two groups
Gustatory  and transitional.

Taste cells are developed from epithelial cells, around taste buds but they live for 3-5 days. Each taste buds posses no of receptor cells.
The nerve fiber ending do not contain myelin sheath and they either invarigate the receptor cells or lie between them at the base of taste bud.

It is important that substance to be tasted must be in solution. Usually saliva acts as the solvene perhaps. According to Ayurveda taste has five aspects:
Rasanendriya Dravya
Rasanendriya Artha
Rasanendriya Buddhi
Rasanendriya Vishaya

Modern View:
Taste receptors are considered as chemo receptors that respond to substance dissolved in oral fluids bathing them.
Sweetness -Tip of tongue
Salt-On dorsum anteriorly
Sourness -At sides
Bitterness-At the back of the tongue
Mid – dorsum has no taste sensation.

Human tongue. Taste receptors of the tongue are present in papillae, and are the receptors of taste. basic tastes sweet, sour, bitter and salty.

Classification of Rasa

Depending upon the general behavior of Ushna (hot) and sheeta (cold) characters or depending upon their effect on dosha’s or depending upon their effect on digestive process the rasas are mainly classified into 3 categories.
Soumya and Agneya Rasas
Dosha prakopaka and Dosha Samakarasa’s
Vidhahi and Aridahi Rasas

Soumya & Agneya Rasas:
Soumya – coolant – Sweet, bitter and astringent
Agneya – hot – pungent, sour and salt 

Dosha Prakopaka & Samaka Rasa:
Vata – Katu, Tikta, Kashaya
Pitta – Katu, Amla, Lavana
Kapha – Madhura, Amla, Lavana

Dosha shamana – 
Vata – Madhura, Amla, Lavana
Pitta – Kashaya, Tikta, Madhura
Kapha – Katu, Tikta, Kashaya

Formation of Rasas According to Season:
Shisira Ritu – late winter – Vayu + Akasha – bitter
Vasantha (spring)  – Vayu + Prithvi – Kashaya – astringent
Grishma (summer) – Vayu + Agni – Katu – pungent / spicy
Varsha (rainy) – Prithvi + Agni – Amla – sour taste
Sharath (autumn) – Ap + Agni – Lavana rasa – salt taste
Hemant (Early winter) – Prithvi + Jala – Madhura – sweet taste

Arrangement of taste According to Guna:
Madhura (sweet) is Snigdha (oily, unctuous), sheetha (cold), guru (heavy)
Amla (sour) is Snigdha, ushna (hot), guru
Lavana (salt) is Snigdha, ushna, guru
Katu (pungent) is Ruksha (dry), ushna, laghu (lightness)
Tikta (bitter) is Ruksha, sheeta, laghu
Kashaya (astringent) is Ruksha, sheeta, laghu

Utilities of Rasa

Order in usage of Rasas in oushada & Ahara Rasa Usage as oushada (Medicine):

In Kapha Disorders – Katu, Tiktha, & Kashaya rasa’s shall be used gradually in same order. By using katu rasa in the beginning both pichchila and gurutava qualities of kapha will be subsided. It is followed by administration of Tikta rasa which reduces sweetness of mouth caused by kapha and therefore helps in reduction of kapha kashaya rasa is giver to remove sneha (oily) of kapha.

In pitta disorders – Tikta, madhura, Kashaya Rasas will be used gradually in same order. By using Tikta rasa in the beginning Ama pachana is possible. After wards Madhura rasa will subside the pitta by its Guru, Snigda and sheeta guna’s. In the end kashaya rasa is administration to exhaust the liquidity of pitta by means of Ruksha guna.

In vata disorders:- Lavana, Amla & Madhura rasa’s shall be used chronological. By using Lavana rasa in the beginning vibhandatwa (clutter, blockage), seetalatwa (cool)  and Laghutwa (lightness) of vata are subsided through kleda, ushna and guru guna’s respectively.
There after Amla rasa is used to cause sroto Vishodhana (cleansing of body channels) and brings about Anulomana gati by means of guru, picchila, and snigdha guna’s.
Then Madhura rasa – sweet taste helps to mitigate Vata Dosha by its Guru – heaviness and Snigdha Guna.

Rasa usage as Ahara (food): 
Sushruta advocated 3 phases for using the rasa’s in diet.
Prathama Avastha (first phase) – Madhura Rasa
Madhyama Avastha (middle) – Amla & Lavana rasa
Anima Avastha (last) – Tikta, Katu, Kashaya

Bhava mishra is in favour of administering Madhura rasa in the end. He opines that Madhura rasa will tackle the ill effects of Lavana, Amla, Katu rasa, usna & vidahi aspects of food items.
The knowledge is very essential since treatment according to Ayurveda to possess Ahara, Vihara and oushadha.

Superiority of Rasa

In the context of dravya is superiority and importance were discussed.
Sushruta proposed four points while Badantha Nagarjuna proposed eight points:

Sushruta’s View:
Agama (Classics) In ancient treatises both foods and drugs are described on the basis of Rasas eg. Madhura Skandha dravya’s Tikta Skanda dravya’s.
Upadesha (elderly) views or advices: Through classical texts our elders have well documented the utility of herbs on the basis of their Rasa’s only eg., Madhura, amla, Lavana, rasa’s will act as Vata samaka etc.
Anumana (Inference): An inference is made about the action of a particular dravya on the basis of its rasa onlyEg. Lavana Rasa is sukrahara, amla rasa is Hridya.
Rishi Vachana (Sayings of Saints): Ancient Acharyas specifically mentioned certain drugs with particular rasa for a particular purpose e.g. Ghrta possessing Madhura rasa is used for Jiraniya Karma. Asking for Madhura Dravya’s to perform yajna.

Badhanta Nagarjuna’s Views:
Adhikara (base for treatment): Treatment based on rasa’s Eg. Pachana with Katu rasa. Balya with Madhura Rasa
Upadesa (Same as sushruta)
Anumana (same as sushruta)
Agama (Same as above mentioned in Sushruta)
Upasamhara (for collective use): When certain drugs are to be picked up collectively then they are described on the basis of Rasa only e.g. when vidarigandhadi gana is to be compared with another group, it is compared with Madhura Skandha, on the basis of Madhura Rasa.
Vyapatti Nimitha (Vitiation dependent): Vitiation of Rasa may result in vitiation of dravya and vipaka eg. Madhura Rasa of mille is distributed or spoilt then milk will spoil and its vipaka is also changed.
Apaesha (frequent usage): Rasa is frequently used to explain different aspects of life e.g. Madhura Gana (Melodies song) Madhura Vani (sweet voice). Katu Swabhara (angry nature)
Aneka Vishayatwa (Multiplicity of issues) on the basis of tastes the drugs are innumerable.

Rasantara – taste conversion

The rasas of any dravyas is never permanent; it always keeps on changing subtler proportions. This means the rasas of dravyas is possible.

The factors which are responsible for rasantara is:
Patra: – the dravyas keeping on long time in specific vessels it changes its rasas.
Kala: – long keeping of dravyas leads to change of rasa
Samyoga: – combination of 2 different dravyas leads to change of rasas.
Paka: – on ripening of some dravyas like fruits changes its rasas.
Surya: – due to sunlight rasas will be changed.
Bhavana:- by trituration the rasas will change.
Desha: – environmental factors also leads to change of rasa.
Kalapakha:- by allowing some time interval.
Parinama:- by transformation
Upasarga by decaying of dravya
Vikriya: by some special procedures.


In western countries dessert is served at end of the meal which will normally sweet in nature. but in our culture we serve sweet as first item during the meal? why it is so in western culture? any comments?

Order of taste – depends on the region / habitat.
Probably, most of the European countries, USA and Canada – long winters, taking sweet at first might cause lowered digestion strength.
This is the reason, the usage of spices is so very important in cold countries.

It was explained with 3 tastes together and there respective doshas. what it mean? that we mix these 3 tastes together for respective dosha? or individually these taste has the quality mentioned.

  • There is no rule that all three tastes should be used together to bring about their effect on Doshas.
  • Individually also, the tastes are capable of increasing or decreasing Doshas.
  • Eg: spicy herbs – increase Pitta and Vata Dosha and decrease Kapha Dosha on their own, without the help of other tastes.
  • If you want to decrease Kapha, better to use spicy herbs + bitter herbs. (spice, bitter and astringent)

What is the reason the preparation of a spice with all tastes in it?

  • Preparation of spice = spicy dish.
  • Whenever a dish is prepared, it is usually made as a combination of different tastes combined together.
  • This combination of tastes, helps to counter the Doshas better, and they will not act only on one particular Dosha. They will act in a balanced way on all Doshas together, leading to perfect Dosha balance.

Addition by Dr MS Krishnamurthy MD(Ayu), PhD
Ayurveda considers food as one of the prime factor in the path of maintaining positive health. This is why it places great emphasis on shad-rasas, or six tastes. Shadrasa is a unique concept put forth by Ayurveda,which states that these not only render the differentiation of tastes but also perform specific function in the body.

Understanding shadrasas and how they relate to our individual constitution can help us make better choices to promote health and to prevent diseases.

Pancha Bouthik Composition: 
Every substance in the universe is panchabouthika (made up of five basic elements of the universe).And hence shadrasas are also made up of panchamahabhutas.

Jala (water) and prithvi (earth) play a major role in the formation and are the substrata for the manifestation of rasa.

Rasa – Anurasa
An important quality inherent in dravya is several rasas. The one which is cognized first by the impact with tongue is spoken of as Primary rasa of the dravya.

The rasa which are less apparent or cognizable but which are sensed subsequently are known as Anurasa or secondary or subsidiary rasa. Anurasa is also known as uparasa.

Effect On Doshas
“Tatraadyaa marutham gnanati trayastiktaadayaha kapham
Kashaaya tikta madhuraa pittamanye tu kurvate” ( – 1/14-16)
The first three taste madhura,amla and lavana alleviate vata; tikta,katu and kashaya alleviate kapha; kasaya, tikta and madhura alleviate pitta. A overview alleviate dosha.

Shad Rasa In Treatment

Because of their qualities and taste, foods that tend to increase a certain dosha may aggravate it and likewise, foods that decrease that dosha will pacify it and normalize its functions.

Vata pacifying foods will have more sweet, sour and salty tastes and less of excessively hot, bitter and pungent tastes. Pitta pacifying foods will be more sweet, bitter and astringent and less sour, salty and pungent.
Finally, kapha pacifying foods will be more pungent, bitter and astringent and less sweet, salty and sour.

The six tastes show different processes of digestion. Food items that are sweet, sour and salty in taste have the property of being heavy, slimy and oily. Therefore the same are mildly laxative by nature.
Whereas, the other three tastes i.e. bitter, pungent and astringent are light and dry by nature and so tend to cause constipation.

All the six types of tastes, according to their mode of action, can be divided into two categories – Cold and Hot. The tastes sweet, bitter and astringent are considered to be cold in nature and thus provide a cool to the body system by reducing the body heat.
Therapeutically, these are used in heat related disorders like fainting and burning inside the body. Whereas, the other three tastes i.e. sour, salty and pungent are generally hot in nature and therefore act in increasing the body heat.

Based on the above mentioned properties rasas can be utilized according to the condition in the treatment of various diseases.

Effect of Rasa on health

Effects Of Various Tastes On Health: 
Madhura Rasa (Sweet Taste): 
Qualities – Unctuous, cold and heavy
Characteristics – Coating of mouth with sweet taste, feeling of pleasure, strength to body
Functions – The sweet taste is believed to increase the general body resistance against a disease. It helps to increase the body tissues, and as a consequence, it enhances the ojas, or the vital energy reserve, of the body and mind. This taste therefore aids in increasing not only immunity, but also the general health of an individual and keeps aging at a distance.
Excessive usage – Causes vitiation of kapha resulting in obesity, tenderness, laziness, hypersomnia, heaviness, loss of appetite, loss of power of digestion, dysuria, cough and coryza.

Amla Rasa (Sour Taste): 
Qualities – Light, hot and unctuous.
Characteristics – Clearance of oral cavity, tingling sensation of teeth & blinking of eyes.
Functions – Sour taste add to the deliciousness of food, stimulate appetite, nourish and energize the body, enlightens the mind ,strengthen the sense organs, promote health, nourish the heart, cause salivation, helps in swallowing, moistening and digestion of food.
Excessive usage – Causes thirst, morbid sensitiveness of teeth, horripilation, vitiation of rakta, decomposition of muscle, flabbiness of body, edema in patients suffering from emaciation. It also causes burning sensation in throat, chest and cardiac region.
Read related: Sour Taste – Qualities, Health Benefits, Side Effects

Lavana Rasa (Salty Taste): 
Qualities – Neither very heavy, unctuous nor hot.
Characteristics – Dryness, burning sensation of buccal cavity and throat.
Functions –It helps in carmination, digestion and production of stickiness. It cures stiffness, obstruction and accumulation. It nullifies the effects of all other tastes, causes salivation, clears the channels of circulation, brings about tenderness of all the bodily organs and cause deliciousness of food.
Excessive usage – Causes vitiation of rakta, thirst, fainting, heating sensation, depletion of muscle tissue, sloughing of parts afflicted with skin diseases like leprosy, aggravation of poisonous symptoms and premature wrinkling, graying of hair and baldness. It causes diseases like rakthapitta, amlapitta, vatarakta, vicharchika etc.
Read more: Salt Taste – Types, Qualities, Health Benefits, Side Effects

Katu Rasa (Pungent Taste): 
Qualities – Light, hot & dry
Characteristics – Stimulation of tip of tongue, burning sensation over the tongue, increases secretions from eyes, nose and oral cavity.
Functions – It keeps the mouth clean, promotes digestion, helps in absorption of food, causes secretion through nose, lacrimation help in elimination of waste products, produces oleation and fomentation & cause deliciousness of food.It kills the germs ,breaks blood clots and other obstructions, clarify the passages and alleviates kapha.
Excessive usage –Destroys the virility, causes unconsciousness, asthma, emaciation, fainting, choking, giddiness, burning sensation in throat, production of excessive eat and thirst and diminution of strength.
Read more: Pungent Taste – Qualities, Health Benefits, Side Effects

Tikta Rasa (Bitter Taste):
Qualities – dry, cold and light
Characteristics – Hinders the perception of other tastes
Functions – It is not delicious but promotes taste when added with other things. It acts as antitoxic and germicidal. It cures fainting, burning sensation, itching, obstinate skin diseases including leprosy, thirst and fever. It promotes firmness of the skin and muscles, carmination, digestion & purify milk.
Excessive usage – It depletes the plasma, blood, muscle, fat, bone marrow and semen. It produces roughness in the circulatory channels, reduces strength, causes emaciation, unconsciousness, giddiness, dryness of mouth and produces diseases due to vitiation of vata.
Read more: Bitter Taste – Qualities, Health Benefits, Side Effects

Kashaya Rasa (Astringent Taste)
Qualities – Dry, cold and heavy.
Characteristics – Feeling of stiffness of tongue, dry and stiffness in throat and catching pain in heart.
Functions– It causes sedation and constipation. It produces pressure on the affected part and cause granulation, absorption and stiffness. It alleviates kapha and raktapitta. It absorbs the body fluid.
Excessive usage – It causes dryness of mouth, affliction of the heart, distention of abdomen,obstruction of speech, constriction of circulating channels and destruction of virility. It gets digested slowly and obstruct the passages of flatus, urine, stool and semen, causes emaciation,thirst & stiffness. It produces diseases like hemiplegia, spasm, convulsions, facial palsy etc due to vitiation of vata.
Read more: Astringent Taste – Qualities, Health Benefits, Side Effects

Usage Of Rasa In Ahara: 
Usage of rasa in diet is advocated in 3 phases.
Food should be started with Madhura rasa followed by Amla and Lavana rasas.

Prathama avastha(first phase) – Madhura rasa
Madhyama avastha(middle phase) – Amla & Lavana rasas
Antima avastha(last phase) – Tikta, Katu & Kashaya rasas.

This knowledge is essential since treatment according to Ayurveda do possess Ahara, Vihara & Oushadha.

Modern View On Taste

If carefully evaluated the ancient concept will match the present scientific views. Foods with specific chemical constituents are found to exhibit particular tastes as below-

Taste             Chemical Constituent
Madhura        Sugar,fat and amino acid
Amla               Acids
Lavana           Salts
Katu               Essential oils,Phenols etc
Tikta              Certain alkaloids & Glycosides
Kashaya        Tannins

Modern science accepts only 4 tastes – salt, sweet, sour and bitter. The part of the tongue responsible for their perception and substances used to measure the average threshold of tastes have been evaluated as below,

Taste           Part Of Tongue       Substance Used
Salts              Tip & sides                    Nacl
Sweet            Tip                                  Sucrose
Sour              Side                                Hcl
Bitter            Root                               Quinine Hcl

As rightly told by Vaghbhatacharya,
“Nityam sarvarasaabhyaasaha swaswaadhikyamrutaavruthou”

For a virtuous and sustained healthy living, it is important to cultivate the habit of using all the six tastes in our daily diet. The knowledge of their actions on the body systems can prove helpful so as to supplement the desired taste, in accordance to the body requirements. And the timely curb on the tastes more extensively used, can help to keep the disease at a distance.

An Ayurvedic clinician can make this a more practical task by providing specific guidelines and food charts for the individual constitution and health needs of each person. Ayurveda knows that the action of any medicinal substance starts in the tongue, so let your food be your medicine.


2.Sushruta samhita, Sutrasthana,42nd chapter
3.Astanga sangraha, Sutrasthana,18th chapter
4.Astanga hrudaya, Sutrasthana,10th chapter

Dravya guna vignana – J.L.N. Shastry
Ayurvedic Pharmacology & Theraeupatic Uses of medicinal plants – Vaidya M. Gogte.
Astanga Hrudayam -Srikanta Murthy
Rasa Panchaka- S.C. Shyani Krishna das Academy Varanasi – 1994
Astanga Sangraha-Srikanta Murthy
Sushruta Suthra -Kaviraj Kunjalar bhisagrabhu
Charaka Sutra -Ram Karan Sharma & Bhagwandas
Dravya guna Siddhanta-Shivacharamdhyami
Dravya Guna Hasthamalalaca – Vaidyaraj Banrarilas Mishra
Harita Samhita-Ramavalamsa Shastri
Dravya Guna Vijnana-P.V.Sharma

Taste determination, transformation

How taste of particular substance is determined?

Pratyaksha – direct perception and observation
Anumana – Guess work. Based on the action, and other qualities.
Aptopadesha – By the sayings in the ancient text books. By relying on ancient wisdom.

Factors causing taste transformation –
Kalasthiti – Time factor –
Mango fruit is astringent at first, then due to time factor, it turns sour, and then to sweet taste.
Patrasthiti – effect of vessel – curds, stored in bronze vessel turns from sour to pungent taste.
Samyoga – combination – tamarind’s taste gets converted from sour to sweet by adding lime.
Paka – by heat processing – tamarind turns sweet on boiling with water.
Atapa – by sun exposure – unripe fruits get altered taste due to Sun.
Bhavana – Grinding with liquids – sesame seeds turn to sweet taste, due to grinding it with licorice decoction (Yashtimadhu Kashaya).
Desha – by the effect of place – some fruits have different tastes based on the effect of place and quality of soil.
Parinama – conversion in form – Milk gets different taste upon getting converted into curds.
Upasarga – infestation – due to worm infestation the taste of herbs get changed.
Vikriya – special processing – Talaphala (Date palm fruit), when subjected to fire, and banged on to ground turns sweet in taste!

Classification of tastes of Ayurveda –
Coolant tastes –
Sweet (Madhura), Tikta (Bitter) and astringent (Kashaya) – these three are coolant in nature. This means, if an herb has any of these tastes, it is most likely that the herb has coolant effect over the body (there are exceptions). They are usually balance Pitta and relieve burning sensation.

Hot tastes – Pungent (Katu), Sour (Amla) and salt (Lavana) are hot in nature. It means, if an herb has any of these tastes, it is likely that the herb has hot effect over the body. Such herbs increase Pitta Dosha, but may balance Vata and Kapha Dosha, increase digestive fire but may cause burning sensation in the body.

Effect on Tridosha –
Vata decreasing tastes – Madhura (Sweet), Amla (Sour), Lavana (Salt)
Pitta decreasing tastes – Kashaya (Astringent), Tikta (bitter), Madhura (sweet)
Kapha decreasing tastes – Katu (Pungent), Tikta (bitter), Kashaya (Astringent)

Vata increasing tastes –  Katu (Pungent), Tikta (bitter), Kashaya (Astringent)
Pitta increasing tastes – Amla (sour), Lavana (salt), Katu (pungent)
Kapha increasing tastes – Madhura (Sweet), Amla (Sour), Lavana (Salt)

The right order of taste consumption in diet –
Ideally, our food should have all the six tastes in it.
First food with sweet taste should be consumed, then food with sour and salt taste, and then pungent, bitter and astringent foods.
This is because, just before the meal time (end part of digestion process), there is Vata increase. Sweet and sour tastes balance Vata. Hence they are to be consumed first.
At the end of meals, digestion process begins. At the beginning of digestion process, there is Kapha increase (that is why you feel heaviness, satiation, salivation etc). To balance out this Kapha Dosha increase, pungent, bitter and astringent foods are to be taken at the end.

This rule applies to healthy person. In patients, it depends on the disease.

So, this is about a small description about taste. Let us dig deeper in coming posts.
Have got any doubts? Please leave a comment below. Will reply.

3 comments on “Six Tastes Of Ayurveda: Qualities, Benefits, Therapeutic Action (Shad Rasa)

  • Bruno Carmo

    11/03/2021 - 5:54 am

    Hello Doctor, how can we understand the fact that lavana is considered more ushna than katu rasa? Is there an explanation for this in Ayurveda? Generally people consider the pungent feeling as hotter, but that could also be just a misunderstanding, right? Thanks in advance!

    Reply to comment
    • Dr J V Hebbar MD(Ayu)

      23/05/2021 - 10:08 pm

      Spicy taste is air + fire -> it burns strongly but the effect does not last long.
      Salt is – water + fire -> The water is like liquid nature of oil. So, it is really oil + fire. This combination makes the fire burn strong and for a very long period of time. Though the initial impact of spice on Pitta is higher, the effect does not last long as in case of salt.

      Reply to comment
      • Bruno Carmo

        23/05/2021 - 10:59 pm

        That really makes sense. Thank you really much, Doctor! _/\_ 🙂

        Reply to comment

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