Ayurveda, the ancient science of medicine in India encompasses food as an integral part of one’s health and sense of well-being. Herbs and spices are used in cooking to balance the different doshas in the body. Ayurveda focuses on three main factors:
- Healing of disease
- Prevention of disease
- Health care
Ayurveda personalizes food for each person’s healing process. Principle of Ayurvedic cookingis a rational way of preparing food keeping in mind the dietary needs of different individuals on their specific body types and doshas.
Raw food over cooked food
Ayurveda recommends cooked food over raw food. Ayurveda believes that if raw food is eaten then it will be cooked inside the body. The human body is not suited to easily digest raw foods. Raw foods such as raw fruits, vegetables, grains and legumes are difficult to digest as they require more energy to be digested properly.
Cooking is necessary to make the foods easily digestible and also to kill the bacteria. Most of the food should be eaten in cooked form. Raw food if it is to eaten should be only in the form of fruits, salads, nuts, sprouted beans and seeds. These should be consumed within an hour and a half of their preparation. Oil and lemons are used in raw foods before consuming to kill bacteria.
Basics of Ayurveda cooking
Ayurvedic cooking employs the knowledge of herbs, spices, vegetables, legumes etc. from Ayurveda which helps in maintaining the physical, mental, social and spiritual balance. The main factors affecting Ayurvedic cooking are:
- Ayurvedic foods are appetizing, flavorful, and aromatic in nature.
- The main objective of Ayurvedic cooking is to prepare food in a manner which can purify body from harmful toxins and revitalizes the body.
- Five elements, three doshas, three gunas, seven dhatus and six tastes form the backbone of Ayurvedic style and science of cooking.
- The method of cooking the food and the cook’s mental disposition plays an important role in the quality of the food.
- Other such factors affecting the quality of the food are time for cooking and eating, surrounding atmosphere, compatibility of foods, and season of cooking.
Types of Ayurvedic food
- Ayurveda classifies food in three types:
- Satvik: Satvik food promotes Sattva (that which induces clarity, harmony and balance). Foods included in this category are fresh fruits and vegetables, salads, fresh fruit juices, cereals, herbal tea, fresh cow milk, dry fruits, nuts, jaggery, all spices and freshly cooked food.
- Rajasik: Rajasik food promotes Rajas (that which induces energy and action). Such foods include canned food, rice, sour cream, paneer, ice-cream, yeast, sugar, pickle, vinegar, onion, garlic and salted food.
- Tamasik: Tamasik food promotes tamas (that which evokes darkness, inertia, resistance and grounding). Foods included in this group are alcohol, beef, chicken, fish, k, eggs, frozen food, microwave food, mushroom, drug, tea, coffee, fried foods and fried nuts.
Method of cooking
The method of Ayurvedic cooking aims at making the food easily digestible. For this, following methods are employed in Ayurvedic cooking;
Heat/warmth: The food should always be warm or hot as it increases the Agni and enhances the digestive power.
Use of spices/seasoning: The use of spices also breaks down the food, which helps in increasing breaking down the food, which makes it easier to be digested.
Processing of food: Processes such as boiling, steaming, frying, sautéing, and seasoning. Ghee is used for processing of food.
Avoid contradictory food: Viruddha-aahar or contradictory food should be avoided in Ayurvedic food. These can be opposite in tastes (such sweet and bitter), potencies (milk-cold potency and salt-hot potency) and properties (dry foods and oleos food).
Fermentation: Fermentation of foods lend them a hard to digest property and hence should be completely avoided in Ayurvedic cooking. Digestive fire is maximum in winter and fermented products can be used to certain extent.
In Ayurvedic cooking, the six tastes are a biochemical method of altering food in such a way that the food has a beneficial effect on the system. The six tastes of Ayurvedic cooking are:
Ayurvedic cooking for a Vataindividual sweet, salty and sour are the tastes considered. This involves cooking with butternut, sweet potatoes and puddings.
Ayurvedic cooking for Pittaindividuals and during summer include bitter, sweet and astringent taste and coking with foods like green leafy vegetables like collards, turnip and mustard greens.
For individuals with Kapha body type the Ayurvedic tastes are bitter, astringent and pungent. The foods included here are beans, bitter green leafy vegetables, with pungent spices.
Seasons have a pronounced effect on Ayurvedic cooking. Seasons refers to the changes in the environment as well as the age of the individual.
Foods and their preparation are chosen according to the temperature of the season and day. On cold winter days, warm spices and heavy grains are used. In summer, lighter foods such as fruits and vegetable salads are more preferred.
In childhood, Kapha is increased and hence food should be suitable for them, cold dairy should be avoided. In active middle years, Pitta is increased. Thus, food should be served on time and be chewable in nature for an individual between 20-50 years of age. In an elderly person, Vata increases while Agni decreases. Ayurvedic cooking prescribes warm soups, stews and soft foods for elderly individuals.