How to Soothe Anxiousness with the Sour Taste

How to Soothe Anxiousness with the Sour Taste

Not too long ago I was talking to a friend who was struggling with pandemic-induced anxiety related to driving. They expressed a desire to find something simple and natural that might bring ease to this anxiousness and allow them to participate more fully in their life. 

Then, this friend casually mentioned that they were going to pick up some sour candy because they’d seen an article or video about how it can potentially bring a steadiness to the mind in moments of panic. Why not try it?

Immediately my ears perked up. I love it when modern science and collective curiosity catch up to what ancient Ayurveda has been telling us for thousands of years. 

While Ayurveda isn’t necessarily going to recommend processed candy to aid your ailments, it will recommend using particular tastes as medicine for different physical and mental challenges. 

In Ayurveda, the sour taste is known to be balancing for vata dosha. Vata dosha represents the wind element within us. When our internal winds become heightened, challenges related to anxiousness, worry, or overwhelm may arise. 

The recent pandemic brought up a lot of collective fear and anxiousness that many of us are still sorting through. 

Those with vata as their primary dosha may be struggling with this the most.

Still wondering how this all relates to the sour taste? Let’s see what Ayurveda has to say about it. Then, we’ll explore a few recent scientific studies that align with Ayurveda’s understanding.

The Ayurvedic Perspective on the Sour Taste

Ayurveda tells us that the sour taste (amla rasa) embodies qualities of moisture and heat. Think of how a sour candy brings moisture to your mouth in the form of salivation. Then, think of how lemon juice is an essential part of preparing ceviche, expressing a heating quality with its acidic nature. 

These qualities together give the sour taste a grounding presence that can help steady the mind by calming the winds of busy thoughts.

With its moistening or oily nature, the sour taste is most balancing to vata dosha. It helps ground the excess wind in our bodies and minds that may lead to anxious or overwhelming thoughts. 

The sour taste is believed to promote discernment, mental acuity, and invigoration—qualities that may help a person navigate a sudden sense of panic. 

In addition to supporting the mind, The Ayurveda Encyclopedia categorizes the sour taste as a digestive aid that dispels gas, relieves thirst, and supports both circulation and elimination.1

If used in excess, the sour taste may increase pitta or kapha doshas due to the same oily and heating qualities that bring balance to vata dosha. 

Ayurveda reminds us that it’s important to incorporate all six tastes (sweet, sour, salty, bitter, pungent, astringent) into every meal, though people navigating vata challenges may benefit from increasing ratios of the sour taste, as well as sweet and salty.

Exploring Modern Trends and Scientific Studies 

The idea of sour candy being used to counter panic attacks is currently trending on TikTok and in popular (though not necessarily scholarly) articles. 

So, what does modern science have to say about all this? 

Not much—yet! But it looks promising. For starters, a 2006 study from The Journal of Neuroscience confirms that “general anxiousness level is directly related to taste perception,” demonstrating the link between the experience of taste and the quality of the mind or nervous system.2

A 2018 analysis of nine peer-reviewed clinical studies showed that even the sourness of citrus essential oils being inhaled “can exert beneficial effects on anxiousness.”3 It is well known that one’s sense of smell and taste are directly related, so if smelling sour citrus can have a beneficial effect on anxiousness, could tasting it have a similar impact? Ayurveda says yes.

While the number of scientific studies on the topic are relatively low, many experts interviewed on the topic agree that the sour taste can have an impact on anxious thoughts. 

One theory shared by various experts is that the intense sensory experience of the sour taste on the tongue may actually help redirect one’s attention to the present moment and away from the spiral of panic-inducing thoughts.4

This wisdom of Ayurveda supports this theory. According to The Ayurveda Encyclopedia, the sour taste “awakens the mind and senses.”5 

As the mind and senses awaken to the present moment, thoughts of past and future naturally become less of a focal point. 

Many somatic practices for grounding also affirm this theory by utilizing the senses to distract the mind or create distance from distressing thoughts in order to arrive in this present, embodied reality.

How to Bring the Sour Taste into Your life

If you’re curious about exploring the sour taste, you don’t have to immediately reach for a warhead or sour gummy candy with potentially harmful additives and artificial flavors. Instead, seek out foods and herbs that are naturally sour.

Start by picking up a few extra citrus fruits, tomatoes, and pickled vegetables on your next grocery trip. 

Yogurt and other mildly ferment items offer a bit of a sour taste as well. Herbal preparations like triphala, amla, and chyavanprash deliver a sour rasa, and culinary herbs like tamarind are also wonderful options. 

While a squeeze of lemon juice or a dab of triphala on the tongue may offer a similar action to a sour candy in a moment of panic, Ayurveda would also recommend incorporating the sour taste into your culinary preparations as a potentially preventive measure. 

If vata remains balanced through diet and lifestyle choices, the spiral of anxious thoughts is less likely to occur in the first place.

With this in mind, other vata-balancing herbal blends may also be supportive! I always keep Stress Ease and Adrenal Nourish in my bag just in case I need a little extra grounding to move through my day in peace. 

Other Ayurvedic Tips for Cultivating Peace and Calm

In moments when the world feels stressful and overwhelming, I return to the simplicity of Ayurveda again and again. 

There is so much empowerment and agency available in understanding what is going on within our bodies, and so much possibility in discovering the transformative power of simple dietary and lifestyle shifts. 

Although modern science is still catching up to many of these ancient insights, you don’t need a scientific study to know what feels good in your body. 

If you’re experiencing the excess vata that is associated with anxiousness, incorporating more of the sour taste into your daily life may be a good place to start. For example, I always begin my day with a mug of warm lemon or lime water. Not only does this kickstart my digestion, but it also steadies my vata and centers me for the day ahead. 

As you build momentum with that practice, you may feel inspired to explore other vata-soothing practices as well—like abhyanga (Ayurvedic self-massage), nasya, or legs up the wall pose

Each of these simple habits will help to ground excess vata and cultivate a sense of peace in your life.

One of the great joys of Ayurveda is that the more we learn, the more it can help us understand exactly what the body is calling for from day to day and moment to moment.