The various components of a square meal, which together nourish the body completely, have been described in Ayurved as Shadrasas (the six tastes) – Madhur, Amla, Lavan, Kashaya, Tikta and Katu. Ras in Ayurved refers to taste. However, the concept of Shadrasas does not merely correspond to the six tastes of sweet, sour, salty, astringent, bitter and pungent; but refer to the entire gamut of essential nutrients that are required to build and maintain the body in the form of the Saptdhatus (seven fundamental aspects of the body structure).
The taste of a foodstuff is a primary determinant of its qualities and functions according to Ayurved. This principle of Shadrasas is used both, in diet as well as medication, while keeping in mind the seasonal and daily fluctuations. The basic objective of Ayurved is to maintain good health in the first place, which is the raison d’être for all this analysis. Imbibing the Shadrasas in the right recommended proportion depending upon one’s Prakruti (basic bodily tendency as a combination of the Tridoshas – Kaph, Pitta and Vaat) is considered to be the key to wellness.
A particular Ras or taste is generated when the Panchmahabhutas (five basic elements of earth, water, fire, air and space) get combined in a particular way. This is in line with the general rule in the world of nature. Since, the human body is also made up of these elements, its maintenance and repair is dependent upon the diet that comprises the Panchmahabhutas in the right proportion. Ensuring this leads to good balance in the Tridoshas and proper nourishment of the Saptdhatus.
In order to maintain a balance, one should have a daily diet that includes all the Rasas. The proportion of Rasas changes as per the seasons. The six seasons of Shishir (winter), Vasant (spring), Greeshma (summer), Varsha (monsoon), Sharad (post-monsoon) and Hemant (pre-winter) correspond to the tastes of Tikta, Kashaya, Katu, Amla, Lavana and Madhur. Among them, Madhur, Tikta and Kashaya are of mild nature, while Katu, Amla and Lavan are of strong nature.
It is interesting to note that Ayurved recommends the intake of Madhur foods at the beginning of the meal, while Amla and Lavan should be eaten in the middle. The fag end of the meal should include Tikta, Kashaya and Katu foods. The use of Rasas in medication depends upon the Tridoshas. In case of patients with predominant Vaat Dosh, the medicines should be consumed in the order of Lavan, Amla and Madhur. In case of Pitta predominance, they should be in the order of Tikta, Madhur and Kashaya, while in the case of Kaph predominance the order should be Katu, Tikta and Kashaya.
Just as the right intake of Rasas brings good health, their misuse can lead to various ailments. Thus, while Madhur foods provide strength and lubrication, excess intake can lead to obesity, cough and asthma. Similarly, Amla foods enable digestion and dissipation of gases; but excess intake causes blood disorders, itching and inflammation. The other tastes also have such characteristics. It is important to have a balanced diet that incorporates all the Rasas in the right proportion.