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  • Writer's pictureTracyann Thomas

Bitter Taste in Ayurveda (Taste Series)

Updated: Jul 15, 2021

The Bitter Taste is called tikta in Sanskrit. The dominant elements are Air and Ether bringing the qualities cool, light, and dry. Because both Air and Ether have no weight, are clear and very subtle, they don’t impart a delicious taste themselves (they’re the furthest removed from the delicious sweet taste), but they do promote the other tastes. Bitter is the most lacking taste in the American diet, aside from coffee.

Bitter is very catabolic, meaning it breaks down the cells to release energy, so overconsumption can deplete any of the tissues.

Kaphas are really balanced by this taste, as Air and Space are the perfect medicine for Kapha’s heavy and unctuous qualities. Pitta is a close second, as it really benefits from the cooling Bitter imparts to the liver and blood. But Vatas can be easily imbalanced by this taste as it possesses all the same qualities of that dosha.

In small quantities Bitter:

  • Is Antibacterial, antiviral - most antibiotics are bitter

  • Relieves burning sensations, itching, fainting, stubborn skin disorders

  • Is Anti Inflammatory, antipyretic (reduces fever)

  • Cleanses the liver, supports the pancreas - scrapes fat & toxins

  • Firms the skin & muscles

  • A laxative, antiflatulent

  • Is a digestive tonic

  • Reduces weight & water retention

  • Resets taste buds & destroys food cravings

In excess Bitter:

  • Causes extreme dryness, roughness & emaciation

  • Induces dizziness, constipation, insomnia

  • Reduces bone marrow leading to osteoporosis (check your coffee intake!)

  • Inhibits sexual energy & sperm production

  • Depletes Ojas

A balanced amount of Bitter can foster introspection. It causes our minds to turn more inward and lessens worldly desires. You can become more self-conscious and self-aware.

But with all things, balance is the key because too much Bitter taste can create an aversion to the pleasures of life & one may become cynical, isolated, and lonely.

The Bitter Stage of Digestion

Within the 5th hour of digesting, the Air and Ether elements are most prominent. This is the Bitter Stage of digestion.

As there is no Fire here, this is the coolest taste and the coldest stage of digestion. Here is where Pitta excess can be calmed and cooled.

This stage lightens up the stomach and intestines. This can create a sense of false hunger, although until this stage is complete, it is not a good time to eat. This stage is busy purifying the body and drying up all secretions so as to prepare and make room for another meal to come.

True hunger signs will be indicated by an increase of Vata dosha which includes a feeling of lightness in the body, coolness of the skin, and a growling stomach. Your mind will feel clear and a sense of spaciousness and it will feel stimulated and you will physically want to move. This is the biological process by design ~ your body will be activated with Vata energy to move and get nourishment. This happens in the last stage of digestion, which I will explain in the subsequent post.

Digestion is now focused in the Ileum - the longest and last portion of the small intestine. After further digestion, rapid absorption of nutrients occurs here through the villi.

For more, see my previous post on the Pungent taste, and my next post on the Astringent taste.

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