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The Importance of Bitter & Astringent Tastes in Your Diet

The Importance of Bitter & Astringent Tastes in Your Diet

The Ayurvedic Tastes

Food is medicine. It either sustains and enhances our ojas (life force) or it diminishes it. Ayurvedic wisdom lends us beautiful foresight about what to eat and the right time to eat it. Creating healthy eating habits is about more than just determining fat, sugar, or fiber content of the foods you eat. And, it’s much easier once we understand food in the context of Ayurveda–through Shadrasa, the six tastes. Ayurvedic nutrition can help us become more in tune with our bodies. We can then tap into the intuitive nature that each of our bodies has about what substances are healing and what are harmful. To learn more about the six tastes, click here.


Bitter and astringent foods have a special place in the Ayurvedic diet. With benefits ranging from weight loss to mental clarity, a small serving of each taste in your meals will have a therapeutic effect on a physical, mental, and emotional level. Read on to discover the power hidden inside these two tastes and how easily you can include them in your daily diet.

They Calm Pitta And Vata Doshas

In an Ayurvedic diet, bitter and astringent foods are best for pitta and kapha types because of their elemental make-up. Pitta contains fire (tejas), while kapha is primarily water (prithvi). Bitters and astringents are comprised of air (vayu), which have a lightening effect and help balance kapha’s heaviness and pitta’s heat. Don’t feel excluded vata! Although your best matches are sweet, salty, and sour, the benefits of bitter and astringent foods pertain to all of us, regardless of Ayurvedic constitution.

They Cleanse And Detoxify The Body

Bitter and astringent foods are high in vitamins in minerals, necessary for healing, bolstering the immune system, repairing cellular damage, and converting food into energy. They both contain rajas, the mode of prakriti associated with energy and movement. These two tastes support the movement of food through the digestive tract and promote elimination of waste and harmful toxins. Certain bitter and astringent foods like dark leafy greens have a scrape and squeeze action on waste and toxins at a cellular level. They also detoxify the blood, fat cells, and lymph fluid.

They Cultivate Inner Peace

Each of the six tastes affects our emotional and mental states in different ways. Bitter can increase our introspection, and cause us to withdraw from material, worldly concerns. Astringents have a similar effect of supporting asceticism. When we voluntarily abstain from hedonistic behaviors and substances, we purify the body and mind so that we can travel to greater depths of our inner selves and become more conscious individuals. Wait a minute–does this mean you can achieve inner peace simply by adding turmeric to your meals?

Like all foods, these two tastes affect not only our physical body but our psychological functioning as well. The power within food is as strong as any drug or psychiatric therapy, so yes, eating the right foods for your constitution can positively affect your state of mind. But its force is more potent in combination with healthy lifestyle practices.

At a Glance: What Do Bitter and Astringent Tastes Do For You?

Why Eat Bitter Foods?

Bitter tastes affect all of us in the following ways: They balance all the other tastes, increase our appetite, heal our skin, and detoxify our tissues. Does that mean eating crisp spinach and kale will help improve the appearance of your skin? Yes!

As averse as we may be to the flavor of bitter foods, they have many therapeutic benefits within the context of an Ayurvedic diet. Their rajasic nature stimulates the nervous system, promoting energy and movement. Bitter taste also reduces fat and water retention due to its drying quality, which means it is a necessary part of a weight reduction diet. Its antibacterial and antiviral properties can help ward off colds and flu. Because bitter tastes activate apana vayu, the downward and outward motion of energy in the body, they have a gentle laxative effect that may ease constipation. It also decreases water retention, aids weight loss, increases bile secretion, and detoxifies the liver.

Why Eat Astringent Foods?

We can identify astringents by the sensation they leave in the mouth. They are generally quite dry as a result of the tannins in the organic matter. They pair well with sweet and sours tastes.
Like bitter tastes, astringents are cooling, dry, and light. They balance pitta and kapha and aggravate vata. However, in Ayurveda, an astringent rasa is different from its vipak, which is pungent. Although it has a cooling effect on digestion, it has a warming effect over time.

Because of their cooling virya, astringents cool excess heat and reduce swelling. They also act as a natural anti-inflammatory so incorporating astringents into each meal can help prevent the occurrence of disease. Astringent tastes primarily affect plasma, blood, muscles, and reproductive tissue.

Bitter and Astringent Foods List

Ayurveda categorizes the following foods as bitter or astringent (or both) according to their virak (digestive energy). Highlighted foods indicate both a bitter and astringent virya for the greatest cooling effects. Their rasa (taste) may have a similar bitter quality. Based on your familiarity with the following foods, what do you think?


Bitter melon Apples
Japanese eggplant Pears
Lettuce (all varieties) Lentils
Spinach  Tofu
Kale Sprouts
Turmeric Turmeric
Nettle Beans
Aloe Vera Legumes
Basil Basil
Pomegranate Pomegranate
Dandelion Black and Green Teas
Coffee Carrots

How To Include Bitter And Astringent Foods In Your Daily Diet

According to Ayurvedic nutrition, every meal should have a combination of the six tastes. We can use taste as a map to guide our food choices because we are naturally inclined to favor the foods whose taste helps balance our predominant doshas. A side of dark leafy greens, for example, will satisfy the bitter portion of a meal.

However, each taste has a recommended amount, which will change depending on your constitution. For all doshas, bitters are needed in small quantities. Astringents, on the other hand, are required in more moderate amounts for each dosha, with pitta needing more than the other two doshas to balance the fire element.

Ayurvedic medicine helps us determine the best way to consume these foods. Most bitter and astringent foods are plant-based. Including them in your diet is much easier than you think! See below for easy and delicious ways to make bitters and astringents a part of your daily diet.

Hot Turmeric Drink

Turmeric, both a bitter and astringent is an especially good liver cleaner and blood purifier. A concoction of fresh ground turmeric with a dash of black pepper is especially good for balancing pitta and kapha. A few drops of organic, local honey added post-heating sweetens up this bitter, cleansing tonic. For a richer version, add cinnamon and coconut milk to make Golden Milk.

Barley Water

This may not sound like the most appetizing elixir, but trust us–its taste will surprise you! Barley water is a cooling, refreshing drink in the hot summer months, and it’s rich in antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals. Boil whole barley seeds in water and allow it to cool before consuming.

Apple Aloe Smoothie

Aloe is a bitter food (you’ll recognize it by its taste on the tongue!) that has a ton of antimicrobial properties and cools agni (digestive fire). Several aloe vera juice recipes are available online, but we find it goes down best in a green smoothie. Adding apple to it adds a sweet-tasting dose of astringent.

Tofu Salad

Tofu is an astringent food and packed with protein. Add it to a salad of spinach and kale (both bitters), and basil (bitter and astringent) for the recommended proportions of both tastes. Salad is one of the most versatile meals. You can experiment with the wide range of bitter and astringent vegetables and fruits to discover tasty combinations.

Pomegranate Juice

One of the foods that have the rare effect of balancing all three doshas, pomegranates have a delicious, potent flavor. But those seeds are hard to get at! A cup of pomegranate juice is an easy way to satisfy the bitter and astringent daily requirements. It’s loaded with antioxidants and has a drying quality that can alleviate diarrhea. Its astringent properties cleanse and clarify the digestive tract.

Food for Thought

According to Ayurvedic wisdom, the food and drinks we consume has a much greater effect on our physical, emotional, and mental functioning than even some of the most potent pharmaceuticals. Food has nutritive, therapeutic, and medicinal properties we can’t acquire from any other source, and it affects the movement of energy throughout our bodies. Food is medicine.

Of the six tastes in Ayurvedic science, bitters and astringents produce the greatest virya, or cooling effect in our digestive system. They temper agni and relieve an excess of the pitta and kapha doshas. Including them in each meal will help cleanse and detoxify our physical and spiritual body, and refresh the physical body, particularly in the hot summer months. Including them in each meal involves a simple trip to your local farmer’s market or organic grocer and a little creativity in the kitchen.


The Ayurvedic Workshop Book – Yogacharya

Ayurvedic Healing: A Comprehensive Guide – David Frawley

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