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August 09, 2008

Astringent-Did the fox taste the rabbit?

"And although he told her that for the French the preparation and eating of good food was an expression of a national trait, she discovered that for this too he suffered in vocabulary...It was as though he had travelled only the familiar, his experience of taste truncated by the absence of words to describe it...

Did the fox taste the rabbit, she wondered, having no word for its brawn?"

The Grasshopper Shoe, Carolyn Leach-Paholski
Astringent is the sixth taste. Six tastes? That's right, sweet, salty, sour, pungent, bitter...and astringent. Kashaya is a word to describe a taste for which we have no direct translation in English. The word astringent, which is traditionally used to describe the tannins in wine, or the a constricting medicine, takes on a broader meaning when used in relation to Ayurveda.

It's a hard taste to describe because it rarely exists alone, but it's most easily described as a sensation. It's a dry, puckering unpleasant tightness in your mouth. Bite into an unripe banana for the closest approximation. Strong black tea also gives a close feeling of astringency, but the most astringent food I know of is a little fruit native to Australia called lilly pilly.

Astringent taste consists of earth and air. It is light, dry and cooling. Astringent is less nutritive and more medicinal. Whilst all dosha's require all tastes, astringent is the most beneficial to Pitta, then Kapha, and only in tiny amounts for Vata, as it aggravates this dosha.

Astringent is the sixth taste, rather than the first because it needs to be consumed in the smallest amounts. In excess it will damage the colon. But it is difficult to overdose on astringent taste from food alone, it is usually the result of improper use of medicinal herbs.

Astringency, as you might imagine from the reaction in your mouth, contracts amd tightens the tissues. It is useful in cases of diarrhea and bleeding as it constricts and binds.

It's easy to get all the astringency you need by just adding a pinch of turmeric to your daily meals.


Anonymous said...

Nice explanation.

You are right. Turmeric has a strong astringent taste. As a child, I bit a small piece of fresh turmeric root and it burnt my tongue. There is a medicine for getting rid of this burnt feeling of tongue. My grandma asked me to chew a small piece of Fresh coconut and to keep the milk that forms in mouth for a while without swallowing. That made the trick!

Julia said...

Wow! That's amazing, I never knew turmeric could burn you, though it makes a lot of sense. How wonderful to grow up in a househld where Ayurveda is alive and well.

emmani said...

Amazing Juila!

We use turmeric in every indian meal,

My husband tells me that it also has anti bacterial properties, which is why meat is always marinated turmeric before cooking.

Indians also drink it mixed with hot milk when they are feeling sick.

Julia said...

Turmeric is pretty amazing stuff! They reckon that it's daily use in India is what keeps Alzheimer's at bay too.

Usha said...

Hi Julia,as usual your post is very interesting to read.I agree on your post below too,I have seen such refrigerated snacks here too,really isn't it a little too much :(

Anyway there is a treat waiting for you at my blog ,please pick it up :)

Pragyan said...

Hi Julia - You have got a very informative blog. Thanks for sharing this with everyone. Though I appreciate Ayurveda, don't know much about it..your writings help!