An Introduction to Holistic Cooking


Two important aspects of life are associated with the tongue—Taste and Speech. Our elders advise us to control both as one can lead to excess and illness and the other can land you in trouble!

Ayurveda says that nutrition depends on the tip of your tongue as the sense of taste is a natural guide for good health. The tastes of different food that is desired by the body are a barometer of the body’s innate wisdom regarding food and nutrition. Taste buds not only identify tastes for the brain, they provide the initial impetus to the digestive system. Your tongue will immediately react to temperature–hot and cold; to spice—chilli and sweet, sour and bitter and to stale and fresh food.

Ayurveda identifies six tastes called Shadruchi: Madhu-Sweet, Amla-Sour, Lavana-Salty, Thiktha-Bitter, Kattie-Pungent, and Kashaya-Astringent. Each taste has an impact on our behaviour and nature.

·         Sweet helps to build tissue, it calms nerves.

·         Sour  helps to clean the system and plays a major role in the absorption of minerals.

·         Salt mainly improves the taste of food. It contributes greatly to maintaining the liquid content of the body, lubricates tissues and stimulates digestion.

·         Bitter food is great as a detoxifier.

·         Pungent food also stimulates digestion and helps with metabolism.

·         Astringent food absorbs water and dries up fats.

The brain sounds the warning when our body requires energy. Any one or combinations of these types of food restore the balance. When all these six tastes are included in our daily diet, then a natural balance is created. The body automatically avoids the over consumption of a particular kind of food. A squeeze of lime juice or a dash of fenugreek, asafoetida; apiece of beetroot or sweet potato; adding chopped cilantro/coriander or curry leaves, a sprinkling of pepper or a dash of chilli powder will fulfil the criteria of six tastes without any hassle.

The combinations of these essences have a tremendous impact on our digestion, absorption and metabolic rejuvenation that is so very important for well being according to Ayurveda. People with a strong Vata constitution are drawn to moist, solid foods. Kapha prominent people tend to eat light and drying foods. Somebody with a predominant Pitta will go for cooling foods and spices. Nature's bounty

Tulsidas in the Ramayana describes the wedding feast of Sita and Rama with another interpretation of Shadruchi. The feast was so planned by Janaka that it offered the consumer six different experiences in the eating itself. There were different kinds of foods that had to be chewed, crunched, licked, sucked, sipped and swallowed whole. The Royal cooks really had a tough time sourcing and creating dishes that involved all these actions. In the digestive process, each of these actions contributes to the absorption of the nutrients in the food that we eat.

The Bhagavat Gita also talks about the three kinds of food in Chapter XVII, Shraddha Shraddha Vibhaga Yoga:

BG 17.7: Even the food each person prefers is of three kinds, according to the three modes of material nature. The same is true of sacrifices, austerities and charity. Now hear of the distinctions between them.

BG 17.8: Foods dear to those in the mode of goodness increase the duration of life, purify one’s existence and give strength, health, happiness and satisfaction. Such foods are juicy, fatty, wholesome, and pleasing to the heart. This refers to Saathvik food.

BG 17.9: Foods that are too bitter, too sour, salty, hot, pungent, dry and burning are dear to those in the mode of passion. Such foods cause distress, misery and disease. This refers to Rajasik food.

BG 17.10: Food prepared more than three hours before being eaten, food that is tasteless, decomposed and putrid, and food consisting of remnants and untouchable things is dear to those in the mode of darkness. Here the reference is obviously to Tamasik food.

There is also the famous saying “Langanam parama aushadam”. When the digestive system is allowed to rest, then it restores a natural balance to the body. The first food taken after a fast is usually fruit or milk that is easily absorbed and gives an instant boost of energy.

Similarly, there are different kinds of food that are prescribed for particular days. In the South, a special spinach variety is eaten on ‘dwadashi’ after having fasted on ‘Ekadashi’. The New Year of Ugadhi and Tamizh New Year in April are celebrated with a special menu with Shadruchi. Eating food with these tastes is supposed to create a balance in the lives of people throughout the year. Thus happiness, sorrow, bitterness, acridity, positive and negative events are experienced with equanimity just as you digest a meal of these combined tastes.

From the importance of the six senses (including perception) to the six tastes that are part of maintaining our bodies and good health, the Hindu way of life analyses, absorbs and uses best practices. Whatever you consume by way of food becomes you. It gets converted into your body. Finally, your body becomes part of Mother Earth and becomes the source of food all over again.

About padmum

You could call me Dame Quixote! I tilt at windmills. I have an opinion on most matters. What I don't have, my husband Raju has in plenty. Writer and story teller, columnist and contributer of articles, blogs, poems, travelogues and essays to Chennai newspapers, national magazines and websites, I review and edit books for publishers and have specialized as a Culinary Editor and contributed content, edited and collaborated on Cookbooks. My other major interest used to be acting on Tamil and English stage, Indian cinema and TV. I am a wordsmith, a voracious reader, crossword buff and write about India's heritage, culture and traditions. I am interested in Vedanta nowadays. I am now an Armchair traveller/opinionator/busybody!
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