Rasa means taste “taste”… it also can be translated to mean:
juice, resin or sap
juice of the sugar cane
the juice or essence of life
joy, delight, enthusiasm, rapture
constituent fluid or essential juice of the body
Each taste is a combination of two elements. Every meal should include all 6 tastes (and thus all 5 elements), however one can emphasize or de-emphasize according to dosha and season.
Madhura (Sweet) – Earth & Water
Sweet taste is the first taste one cognizes, and the first taste of life, in the form of mothers milk. Sweet taste alleviates vata and pitta and aggravates kapha. Sweet is especially beneficial during the summer (hot) and fall (dry / windy) seasons. Comprised of earth and water, sweet taste builds tissue, stabilizes, grounds, and moistens. Sweet can build ojas (vital essence) and promotes love. Sweet taste is best emphasized in the summer and fall. Examples of sweet taste are maple syrup, cream, dates, sugar cane, wheat, sweet potato, beet and licorice.
Lavana (Salt) – Fire & Water
Salty taste is the second taste one cognizes. Salty taste is balancing for vata and in excess can aggravate pitta and kapha. Salt is especially beneficial (in moderation) in the late fall and early winter. In small amounts it is energizing and digestive, while in excess it increases heaviness and lethargy. In moderation, salty taste can enhance flavor and variety, sparks digestion and builds courage. In excess in can increase greed and attachment. Examples are sea salt, rock salt, seaweed, and soy sauce.
Amla (Sour) – Earth & Fire
Sour taste is warming and enlivens appetite and digestion. Sour alleviates vata and increases pitta and kapha. Sour is best in the late fall and early winter (cold season). In moderation, sour taste can stimulate ambition, appetite for life and comprehension. In excess, sour taste can increase envy, jealousy and a “sour” disposition. Too much sour can be overheating and acidic. Examples are lemon, lime, orange, vinegar, yogurt, pickled vegetables, sour grapes and sour plums.
Katu (Pungent; Spicy) – Fire & Air
Pungent or spicy taste is stimulating, heating, light and drying. Pungent taste balances kapha and can aggravate vata & pitta. Pungent taste can be emphasized in the late winter and early spring. In moderation, spicy-pungent taste can promote circulation, digestion, absorption, enthusiasm, excitement, gusto, and perception. Excess pungent taste can increase irritability, irritation, envy and anger, loose bowels, and inflammation. Examples are ginger, chilies, jalapenos, garlic, black pepper and asafoetida (hing).
Kshaya (Astringent) – Air & Earth
Astringent taste is cooling and drying. Astringent alleviates pitta and kapha and aggravates vata. Astringent can be emphasized in the spring and early summer. In moderation, astringent taste improves nutrient absorption, is anti-bacterial, and increases clarity and organization. In excess, astringent taste can be overly drying, create gas or constipation, stagnates circulation, increases anxiety, nervousness and scattered mind. Examples are pomegranates, green beans, unripe banana, turmeric, black tea and chickpeas.
Tikta (Bitter) – Air & Space
Bitter taste is light, cooling, dry and subtle. Bitter alleviates pitta and kapha and aggravates vata. It should be emphasized in the spring and summer. In moderation, bitter taste stimulates taste, cleanses the liver, reduces fat, controls excess heat, is anti-viral and anti-bacterial, increases subtle mental awareness and introspection. In excess, depletes the tissues and can lead to isolation, grief, anxiety and loneliness. Examples are green tea, leafy greens like kale and arugula, radicchio, coffee, dandelion, and neem.