Kitchari & the Six Tastes
Kitchari is THE cleansing food in Ayurveda. Simple yet nourishing, kitchari is gentle on the digestive system, giving the organs a break while still providing the body with nutrients and energy. Every Ayurvedic practitioner has at least one recipe for kitchari, so what I am sharing today is nothing new. However, by explaining the six tastes and how to use them to balance the doshas, I hope to provide some easy-to-understand guidelines on how to adapt this versatile recipe to suit your doshic needs.
Kitchari is basically a split mung bean and basmati rice porridge. Both when cooked absorb lots of water and break down easily in the body. The combination also contains the amino acids needed to make a complete protein. Spices are added to enhance digestibility. Ghee is added for added nourishment. Vegetables are also often added according to which dosha needs balancing.
The question is, what vegetables should we use? By referring to the qualities of the six tastes, we can determine which choices are best for vata, pitta, or kapha. The six tastes are:
Sweet - heavy, cool, grounding, moist. The sweet taste is the most tonifying - it helps build tissues and maintain/build body mass. Potatoes and carrots would be considered sweet. Licorice is a sweeter spice.
Salty - Moist, warm, sharp. The salty taste helps increase appetite and to retain moisture. Kelp and celery are two typically salty vegetables.
Sour - heavy, moist, sharp, stable. The sour taste increases agni and therefore helps strengthen digestion. Fermented vegetables such as kimchi and pickles are sour.
Astringent - cool, dry, hard, stable. The astringent taste dries up excess secretions and moisture in the body, creating tightness and stiffness. Spinach and pomegranate have astringent qualities.
Pungent - hot, dry, light, mobile. Also known as spicy. The pungent taste increases heat in the body and helps with digestion. Mustard greens and radish sprouts are spicy.
Bitter - cold, dry, light, mobile. The bitter taste purifies the blood, lightens the tissues, and cools the body. Dandelion greens and kale are good examples of bitter.
The Best Tastes for Each Dosha
The tastes that are best for balancing Vata are sweet, sour, and salty. These are the heaviest tastes and help balance the light, mobile, cold and dry qualities of vata.
The tastes that are best for balancing Pitta are sweet, astringent, and bitter. These are the coolest tastes and help balance the hot, oily, and sharp qualities of pitta.
The tastes that are best for balancing Kapha are pungent, bitter, and astringent. These tastes are the most drying and help balance the moist, heavy, and stable qualities of kapha.
Knowing which tastes are appropriate for each dosha serves as a reliable guideline when it comes to choosing the vegetables for your kitchari, and beyond. Will you add grounding vegetables such as carrots and yams, or bitter greens and sprouts? It all depends on your doshic state.
Without further ado, I present to you my basic kitchari recipe!
Kitchari is a classic Ayurvedic food that is simple, nourishing, and easy to digest. Each batch makes several servings, so use a big pot!
1 cup basmati rice
1 cup split mung beans
7 cups water
3 Tbsp ghee
1-2 tsp each: fennel, cumin, fresh ginger, turmeric, coriander*
1 tsp salt (or more to taste)
3 cups mixed freshly chopped vegetables (e.g. carrots, onion, radish, broccoli, zucchini, etc.)
*Spices can also be adjusted according to doshic needs. More on that another time!
1. (optional: pre-soak rice and beans overnight) Wash the rice and mung beans thoroughly. Add water and bring it to a simmer on the stove.
2. As the rice and beans are starting to cook, dry roast the spices and then add the ghee. Fry until fragrant, and then add into the rice and beans.
3. Add in the chopped vegetables, then cook everything until the vegetables are tender and the rice and beans are cooked to a porridge consistency. Salt to taste. Optional: garnish with some fresh cilantro and lemon. Serve warm and enjoy!
Not sure what doshas in your body need balancing? There are many dosha quizzes available on the net today (this one is very detailed, and one of my favorites). For a more in-depth analysis, book an initial consultation with an Ayurvedic practitioner for an assessment of your specific needs.