Bitter Taste

bitter foods

The bitter taste is quite familiar. More often than not, it is a flavor that is actively avoided, although some people truly enjoy it. However you feel about it, when used appropriately, the bitter taste has innumerable therapeutic benefits.

The Bitter Taste—At A Glance

Balances: pitta and kapha
Aggravates: vata
Primary Elements: air and ether
Virya (temperature): cooling (the coldest of the cooling tastes)
Vipaka (post-digestive effect): pungent
Gunas (associated qualities): cold, light, dry
Associated Positive Emotions: clarity, introspection, self-awareness, healthy detachment from worldly things
Emotions of Excess: cynicism, rejection, boredom, isolation, separation, loneliness
Location on the Tongue: middle edges on the left and right sides (and a small band across the middle of the tongue, connecting these edges)
Affinity for Organs: pancreas, liver, spleen
Most Affected Tissues: plasma, blood, fat, nervous, and reproductive tissues
Direction of Movement: downward, descending (activates apana vayu)
Additional Actions: stimulates the nervous system, reduces fat, reduces bone marrow, inhibits sexual energy, is antipyretic (reduces fever), anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, antiviral, cholagogue (promotes healthy flow of bile), laxative, anthelmintic (deworming), alterative, and diruretic


tongue and tastes diagram

© Dr. Vasant Lad2

Examples—Substances that Illustrate the Bitter Taste

Vegetables bitter melon, burdock root, leafy greens (like kale, collards, dandelion greens or yellow dock), eggplant, jerusalem artichokes
Other sesame seeds, sesame oil, coffee, dark chocolate
Spices cumin, dill, fenugreek, saffron, turmeric


The bitter taste is deeply cleansing to the body because it scrapes fat and toxins.2 It improves all other tastes, alleviates thirst, stimulates a healthy appetite, kills germs, and clears parasites from the GI tract.2 It serves to clear heat, dry ama, clear congestion, purify the blood, cleanse and support the liver, while draining excess moisture from the body.2, 1 It can reduce fainting tendencies and also benefits the skin, relieving burning, itching and swelling.2 It also tones the muscles and skin, relieves intestinal gas, promotes peristalsis, and serves as a digestive tonic – kindling the digestive fire with its dry, light qualities.2 The bitter taste even enhances the release of digestive secretions and digestive enzymes.1

In Excess

If overused, the bitter taste can induce nausea, weaken the kidneys and the lungs (due to the extreme drying quality), deplete the tissues, and cause dry mouth, debility, bone loss, osteoporosis, and reduced sperm production.2 It can also cause emaciation, excess coldness, extreme dryness, constipation, malaise, confusion, giddiness (as in being spaced out), disorientation, dizziness or loss of consciousness.2 Too much bitter taste also has the capacity to dry out ojas.1


The bitter taste can exacerbate the situation if there is elevated vata in the system, excess cold quality, extreme dryness or roughness, emaciation, or a serious deficiency of any kind. Bitter taste should also be minimized during pregnancy.


While a bitter herb, guduchi has a sweet post-digestive effect and is therefore both a tonic and an aphrodisiac.1