If you practice a balanced, holistic approach to food and drinks, you may already be familiar with some aspects of Ayurvedic cooking. Heck, even Martha Stewart advocates for Ayurvedic cooking as a means for a healthy lifestyle!
A philosophy that emphasizes mindfulness and an individualized approach, Ayurvedic cooking is both accessible and infinitely healing from within.
This article explored the rich world of Ayurvedic cooking, including the following topics:
- What is Ayurveda?
- Ayurvedic Cooking Terminology
- 6 Key Aspects of Ayurvedic Cooking
- 7 Ayurvedic Cooking Methods
- Benefits of Ayurvedic Cooking
- Is Ayurvedic Cooking Vegetarian?
What is Ayurveda?
Ayurveda is an ancient holistic discipline with roots in India circa 3,000-5,000 years ago. The Sanskrit word Ayurveda comes from ayur and veda, that translate as “life” and “knowledge” or “science”, respectively.
A set of philosophies and guidelines that are aimed at improving a practitioner’s well-being, Ayurvedic lifestyle covers everything from movement and meditation to food and skincare.
Ayurveda is sometimes referred to as a “sister science” to yoga. As such, many yoga practitioners incorporate Ayurvedic principles into their daily routine.
Ayurvedic Cooking Terminology
Before we dive into the cooking aspect of Ayurvedic science, let’s examine some of the principal terminology.
According to Ayurveda, every person’s physical body is composed of three primary energies known as doshas.
Doshas are derived from the five elements (Pancha Mahabhutas), and their purpose is to govern the processes of the human body and mind. The three doshas include:
- Vata – a combination of air and ether elements.
- Pitta – a combination of fire and water elements.
- Kapha – a combination of water and earth elements.
Every dosha comes with a set of characteristics that influence the person’s appearance, personality, and even digestive system. Each person has a unique combination of these doshas, which is determined at the time of conception and is known as one’s Prakriti (constitution).
Ayurvedic cooking aims to balance these doshas by selecting foods and spices as a means to pacify or balance one’s dominant dosha.
In Ayurvedic philosophy, the gunas refer to three fundamental qualities or attributes that are present in all things, including food. They play a crucial role in Ayurvedic cooking and dietary choices, as they influence the energetic and therapeutic qualities of different foods.
The three gunas include:
- Sattva – purity or balance.
- Rajas – activity or restlessness.
- Tamas – inertia or darkness.
The goal of Ayurvedic cooking is to create a balanced meal that incorporates all three gunas in appropriate proportions. This helps maintain equilibrium in the body and mind.A balanced meal typically consists of sattvic foods as the primary component, with smaller portions of rajasic and tamasic foods to provide energy and stability.
It’s important to note that a person’s dosha and their specific health goals can also influence the choice of foods and the balance of gunas in a meal.
Ayurvedic cooking incorporates six primary tastes, or rasas, in each meal. Each flavor has a specific effect on the doshas and the body, and a balanced combination of these tastes is believed to support digestion and overall health.
The six rasas include:
- Madhura – the sweet taste in foods including fruit, honey, certain grains, and root vegetables. Madhura is heavy, grounding, and nourishing
- Amla – the stimulating sour taste indicating the presence of acidic components in tems such as citrus fruits, fermented foods, and produce rich in Vitamin C.
- Lavana – the salty taste associated with the elements of water and fire, which is used helps to balance Vata dosha.
- Tikta – the bitter taste present in foods like leafy greens, grapefruit, or bitter melon. It is light, cooling, and detoxifying.
- Katu – the pungent taste. It is heating, stimulating, and can promote digestion. Foods with a katu rasa include chili peppers, garlic, ginger, and many spices.
- Kashaya – the astringent taste associated with the elements of air and ether. Foods with an astringent taste include beans, lentils, and certain vegetables.
Similar to the gunas, the goal is to include all six rasa in a meal to ensure that all aspects of the body’s needs are met.
However, the specific proportion of each rasa in an individual meal can be adjusted based on a one’s dosha and health goals.
6 Key Aspects of Ayurvedic Cooking
It all sounds pretty complicated, doesn’t it? To make it feel less intimidating, let’s take a look at the key aspects of Ayurvedic cooking that should help you get started on your Ayurvedic nutrition journey.
1. Keeping the Dosha Balanced
One of the main principles in Ayurvedic cooking involves selecting foods that either support or restore the balance of your dosha. Naturally, in order for you to follow this route, you will need to determine your principal dosha.
You can do that by taking a specially designed questionnaire, observing your physical features, as well as noticing your behavioral and emotional patterns. Of course, the best way to determine your dosha is to have a consultation with an Ayurvedic professional.
Once you know your dominant composition, you can find out whether your dosha is balanced and subsequently select the appropriate foods.
2. The Gunas and Rasas
Even if you don’t know your dosha, you can start incorporating the principles of Ayurvedic cooking into your diet by including the six primary tastes (rasas), as well as the three fundamental attributes (gunas).
This part can be quite tricky if you’re not very familiar with Ayurvedic foods. Thankfully, there are plenty of free online resources that include Ayurvedic recipes and their purpose within the body.
3. Local and Seasonal Ingredients
Ayurvedic cooking emphasizes the use of fresh, seasonal, and locally sourced ingredients. This approach is believed to align with the body’s natural rhythms and promote balance.
It is even better if you have the opportunity to grow some of your own produce in order to ensure high quality and the positive energy invested into your food.
4. Spices and Herbs
Spices and herbs play a crucial role in Ayurvedic cooking. They are chosen not only for their flavors but also for their medicinal properties. Spices are well-known to aid digestion, boost metabolism, and enhance the healing effects of food.
5. Mindful Eating
The science of Ayurveda places a strong emphasis on mindful eating practices, similar to the modern principle of intuitive eating.
This includes eating in a calm and peaceful environment, savoring each bite, and paying attention to the body’s hunger cues. It also steers practitioners from overindulgence.
6. Individualized Approach
Although some Ayurvedic cooking principles can be incorporated into your diet in a broader sense, Ayurveda recognizes that each person has a unique constitution and health needs.
As such, for the optimal results, dietary recommendations should be issued by a professional specializing in Ayurvedic nutrition and personalized according to an individual’s dosha, imbalances, and overall well-being.
7 Ayurvedic Cooking Methods
Ayurvedic cooking often involves specific cooking methods to enhance the nutritional value of food and aid digestion. While there isn’t an exhaustive list, here are some cooking techniques commonly used in Ayurveda.
1. Steaming (Svadu / Apata)
Steaming is considered one of the healthiest ways to cook food in Ayurveda. It retains the natural flavors, nutrients, and vitality of ingredients while making them easier to digest.
2. Boiling (Udvartana)
Boiling is used to create nourishing soups and stews. It softens ingredients and enables easier digestion.
3. Sautéing (Vartana)
Sautéing involves cooking ingredients in a small amount of ghee or oil over medium heat. It’s a common technique used to cook vegetables and proteins with spices to enhance their flavors.
4. Baking and Roasting (Bhakti / Bhojana)
Baking is used to make breads, biscuits, and roasted vegetable dishes. Baked and roasted meals typically include whole grains, seasonal produce, spices, and natural sweeteners.
5. Slow Cooking (Adhupaka)
Slow cooking allows ingredients to cook on low heat over a long stretch of time, gradually releasing flavors and nutrients while making them easier to digest. Dishes like kitchari, a traditional Ayurvedic meal of rice and lentils, are often prepared using this method.
6. Fermentation (Paka)
Fermented foods like yogurt and pickled vegetables are used to support gut health and digestion. Fermentation breaks down complex substances into simpler forms, making nutrients more bioavailable.
7. Herbal Infusions
Ayurvedic cooking is famous for its generous use of herbs and spices. Both drinks and food are infused with herbs to enhance flavor and contribute to the healing properties.
Benefits of Ayurvedic Cooking
In Ayurveda, food is a means to finding or restoring equilibrium within oneself. Every meal, every sip of water, is directed towards improving a person’s wellbeing.
The main benefits of Ayurvedic cooking include:
- Improved digestion
- Mental well-being
- Healthy relationship with food
- Weight correction
- Support of the immune system
Is Ayurvedic Cooking Vegetarian?
Although Ayurvedic cooking is not inherently vegan or vegetarian, it places a strong emphasis on plant-based foods.
As opposed to condemning the use of animal products altogether, traditional Ayurvedic principles emphasize the use of fresh, seasonal, and locally sourced ingredients, which predominantly include vegetables, fruits, grains, legumes, nuts, seeds, and dairy.
Ayurveda does recognize the consumption of animals and animal products, however, they are used sparingly and typically more suitable for individuals who have specific dietary needs or constitutional requirements.
It’s worth noting that someone who already follows a vegan or vegetarian diet can easily adapt Ayurvedic cooking principles in order to thrive on an Ayurvedic diet.
Ultimately, Ayurvedic cooking is all about striking a delicate balance of whole food ingredients, a multitude of flavors, and cooking techniques that enhance the nutritional properties of the foods you consume.
A great way to get started on your Ayurvedic journey is to start incorporating simple and accessible recipes such as our Golden Turmeric Milk or this Tridoshic Daal (lentil stew) by Himanshu Kapoor: