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 many 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, cholagogue (promotes healthy flow of bile)

 

tongue and tastes diagram

© 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

Benefits

The bitter taste is deeply cleansing to the body because it scrapes fat and ama (natural toxins).2 It improves all other tastes, alleviates thirst, stimulates a healthy appetite, and is cleansing for the GI tract.2

It serves to clear heat, purify the blood, and cleanse and support the liver while draining excess moisture from the body.2,1 It also tones the muscles and skin, soothing occasional skin discomfort.2

The bitter taste also serves as a digestive tonic—kindling the agni (digestive fire) with its dry, light qualities.2 

In Excess

If overused, the dry quality of the bitter taste can cause excessive dryness in the mouth and feelings of depletion in the tissues.2 It can also cause excess coldness, extreme dryness, and feelings of confusion, giddiness (as in being spaced out), and disorientation.2 Too much bitter taste also has the capacity to dry out ojas.1

Contraindications

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.

Exceptions

While a bitter herb, guduchi has a sweet post-digestive effect that balances some of its bitter qualities and energetics.1

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