Ayurvedic Cooking: Everything You Need To Know
Living an Ayurvedic lifestyle is all about maintaining an equilibrium of the doshas. There are several ways to practice this. One of them isAyurvedic cooking.
It may take some time to learn all the good and bad combinations of foods in Ayurvedic cooking. One well-known rule is to not combine fresh fruit with dairy or grains.
If you combine fruit with yogurt or oatmeal, each item will digest at varying rates of time, causing indigestion. If you love to have fruits with your oats, do not add fresh fruits on top of your oats. It is better to cook them together.
You’re The Expert
Ayurveda says every individual is different and has different needs.
Try to develop an awareness of your eating habits and how you feel after eating. Your body will tell you what is needed and what is not.
It is also of utmost importance to prepare food in a way that does not destroy it’s prana or life-giving energy. Overcooking, deep-frying, or burning not only destroys prana, but also the food’s taste.
Food is the sustainer of living beings and also the cause for their strength, complexion and vigor. Food is composed of six tastes. The tastes are localized in dravyas (medicines or food substances). The strength, complexion and immunity of a living system is under the control of diet which in turn is under the control of the six tastes.1
In Ayurveda, food is said to to be life for all living beings. Food should have color (varna), taste (rasa), aroma (gandha) and touch (sparsha). It should be pleasing to the mind and prepared and processed properly with pure consciousness and love. This provides and supports life energy.
Food itself is calledprana. Food supports the life force.2
READ MORE: Coconut Oil Benefits, Coconut Oil Uses, Coconut Oil Quotes
Common Misconceptions In Ayurvedic Cooking
There are many misconceptions regarding Ayurvedic cooking.
People mistakenly believe that it is only vegetarian, or even that it is only Indian food.
The truth is, any food can be considered Ayurvedic as long as it is fresh, in season and prepared with mindfulness and in the correct combinations.
Ayurveda doesn’t only tell us what to eat, but when to eat, how to eat and in what quantity to eat.
Traditional Indian Foods
Traditional Indian foods have been prepared for many years and preparation styles vary across the country. Indian traditional foods are also recognized asfunctional foods because of the presence of functional components such as body-healing chemicals, antioxidants, dietary fiber and probiotics.
These functional molecules help in weight management, blood sugar balance and support immunity of the body. The functional properties of foods are further enhanced by processing techniques such as sprouting, malting and fermentation.3
Ayurvedic Cooking: Ancient Wisdom
Ahara (food) is one of the three pillars of life according to Ayurveda; the other two being sleep and a regulated sexual life. The classical texts of Ayurveda of 300 BC–700 AD dedicate elaborate sections of their work to food, eating and Ayurvedic cooking.5
The Ayurvedic scholar Charaka elaborated on the quantity of food and digestion in chapter five of the Charaka Samhita.
He said, intake of food should always be in proper quantity. It should always depend on agni bala, the strength of the digestive system.6
The (matra) quantity of food which does not disturb the normalcy of the body’s doshas and dhatus (prakriti)and maintains their balance, and the food that gets digested in proper time (kala), is called a proper matra or quantity of food.7
READ MORE: Easy, 4-Step Ayurvedic Weight Loss Plan, Plus Home Remedies For Overweight
Wholesome + Unwholesome Food
In Ayurvedic cooking, it’s important to prepare wholesome food. Wholesome food, according to the ancient sage Charaka, is the cause of health and happiness. Unwholesome food is responsible for misery and disease.
Wholesome food promotes positive mental health (sattva), enthusiasm and positive energy (orja).
Such food and drinks taken in an ideal way nourish the body tissues (dhatus), improve strength and immunity (bala), improve the skin’s complexion (varna) and soothe the sense organs.
Improper intake of food causes harmful effects to the body and mind.2
Chakrapani Datta, in his commentaryAyurveda Dipika in the Charaka Samhitaexplains that the wholesome and unwholesome nature of food depends upon several factors.
The quantity (matra) of food consumed, timeof consumption of food (kala), processing of food (kriya), habitat of the food grown (bhumi), body typeof the person consuming the food (deha prakriti) and the dosha imbalance of the person all affect the wholesomeness of the food.8
Ayurvedic cooking requires many considerations.
Don’t know your Ayurvedic Body Type or Prakriti? Click HERE to take the FREE Quiz.
Classification Of Foods + Food Processing
In Ayurveda, food has been classified based on form and function.
Grains, pulses, processed foods, meat and meat products, leafy vegetables, fruits, salts, supplements, various forms of water, milk and milk products, oils, and alcoholic drinks have been elaborated and described based on their effect on the body.
They are further described in terms of place of origin and seasonal variations.
Food processing is a topic that is dealt with in detail. The pharmacological properties of a substance can be altered depending on the process of cooking. Puffed rice is light on the system, for example, compared to flaked or cooked rice which is heavy to digest.
Prakriti (Constitution) + Ayurvedic Cooking
An individual’sprakriti is another important factor in Ayurvedic cooking. It influences how food affects the system.
Prakriti is characterized by a set of physical, physiological and psychological attributes. Based on taste preference, individuals can be grouped as Vata (having an affinity for sweet, sour and salty tastes); Pitta (with liking for sweet, bitter and astringent tastes), and Kapha (liking pungent, bitter,and astringent tastes).
Whereas these tastes mitigate any negative effects of the inherited constitution, usage of tastes in the reverse order can cause imbalance in the body. If aVata constitution person continuously consumes pungent, bitter, and astringent tasting materials, it could lead to rapid aging and degeneration of the body.9
Don’t know your Ayurvedic Body Type or Prakriti? Click HERE to take the FREE Quiz.
Incompatible Foods + Ayurvedic Cooking
Another distinctive feature of Ayurvedic cooking is its understanding of incompatibilities of food materials and processing.
There are 18 forms of incompatibilities according to Ayurveda.
Incompatibilities happen when the potency of the food, processing, quantity, process of intake, time or season are contradictory to each other or have a negative impact. Combining foods such as sour fruits and milk or honey and ghee (clarified butter) in equal quantities is a no-no in Ayurvedic cooking.
Milk along with horse gram, fruit, or fish is considered incompatible. Even heating honey is warned against. We may not have a contemporary scientific explanation for these rules, however they can be explained in Ayurvedic terms as incompatible according to the nature of the foods themselves.
Processing of an item can change the potency, safety and pharmacological effect of that item.
Yogurt is considered unwholesome in mostdoshaimbalanced conditions. There are specific instructions to consume yogurt.
Yogurt should not be taken at night or in spring, summer and fall. It should be taken with sugar candy, green gram soup or honey.
Yogurt which is unwholesome in most situations becomes a healthy drink when churned and the butter is removed.
This sweet tasting yogurt beverage is often referred to as buttermilk in Ayurveda. Traditionally it’s called takra. When it’s kept in an earthen vessel for two days, it develops an astringent taste and becomes a wholesome food for the gastrointestinal tract.
It’s especially useful in conditions such as hyperacidity, irritable bowel syndrome, fissures, hemorrhoids, and certain types of diarrhea and dysentery.10
Ayurvedic Cooking + Health Conditions
There are also disease-specific or medicine-specific instructions that should be followed for consumption of food.
A patient suffering from cough is advised to consume vegetables such as coccinea, spices such as garlic, cardamom, long pepper and ginger, and condiments prepared with puffed rice.11
In the Charaka Samhita Vimana Sthana, it’s said to eat food in proper quantity which is warm and unctuous.
In Ayurvedic cooking, food should not be contradictory in potency. Mixing cold ice cream with hot coffee or espresso for example, should be avoided.
It’s also important to note that food should be taken in a proper place. You should be equipped with all the necessary amenities. There should not be much talking and laughing. Instead, pay regard to oneself and enjoy the process of eating.
Food should be taken only after the previous meal is properly digested. Food should not be taken in a hurry or too slowly.
Food is important for living and health. When rules are followed during consumption or cooking of food the benefits it bestows are immense.
Ayurvedic cooking has some unique aspects that set it apart from other types of cooking. Ayurvedic cooking utilizes detailed descriptions of foods and beverages. Foods are classified based on their taste (shad rasa) and therapeutic qualities. Food safety, food measurement, food qualities and intake based on the digestive ability of those eating the food are all considered.
Food incompatibilities based on tastes, processing, amount, time, place of food consumption and the nature of food that is being consumed are also important considerations.12
READ MORE: Meat Use In Ayurveda: This Holistic Science Is Not Vegetarian Or Vegan
Ayurvedic Cooking For Your Doshic Imbalance
The Ayurvedic diet identifies six tastes: sweet, sour, salty, bitter, pungent and astringent.
Each taste has different energetic effects on the mind and body. They either aggravate or pacify particular doshas. For example, considering Ayurveda’s theory of ‘like increase like’. Someone with Pitta excess may add fuel to the fire by consuming hot, spicy foods.
When you plan your diet according to your body type and its effect on each particular dosha, you can easily balance the doshas and maintain yourPrakruti.
The tastes can either alleviate or aggravate the doshas. For example, a diet of sweet, sour and salty tastes alleviate or reduces Vata. Those having an astringent, bitter and pungent taste would aggravate Vata.
Similarly, Pitta is aggravated by a pungent, sour and salty taste. Kapha is aggravated by a sweet, sour and salty taste.2
If you want to balance Vata dosha, you have to understand that Vata dosha is a combination of the space and air element. These elements are predominant in foods tasting bitter, astringent and pungent. So if you indulge in bitter, astringent and pungent food, you will aggravate Vata dosha. To balance Vata, you need to eat foods consisting of the remaining three elements – earth, water and fire. These are foods which are sweet, sour and salty in taste.
Along with the taste of food, other properties of the food like whether it is heavy or light, oily or dry, liquid or solid are also taken into account. The potency of the food, whether it is heating or cooling, and the post digestive effect of the food is also considered.
Below are some general guidelines for balancing the doshas, derived from Vasant Lad’s wonderful book, ‘The Complete Book of Ayurvedic Home Remedies’.
READ MORE: Vata Diet: Everything You Need To Know
Rules For The Vata Diet (How To Balance Vata Dosha)
- Include sweet, salty, and sour tasting foods in your diet.
- Avoid bitter, astringent and pungent tasting foods.
- Eat warm, oily or heavy foods.
- Avoid cold foods.
- Best oils to be used are almond, ghee and sesame.
- Avoid ice cream and frozen yogurt.
- Eat boiled or steamed starchy vegetables.
- Eat ripe fruits.
- Use mild spices like cumin, ginger, cardamom, cinnamon, fennel, coriander, salt, cloves, mustard and black pepper.
- Herbal teas of chamomile, fennel, ginger and lemon are good.
- Raw honey, jaggery (raw sugar), maple syrup and molasses are good sweeteners.
- Avoid using brown sugar and white sugar.
READ MORE: Honey Ginger Remedy For Weight Loss, Immunity, Worms + More
Rules For The Pitta Diet (How To Balance Pitta)
- Include sweet, bitter and astringent tastes in your diet.
- Avoid pungent (hot), sour and salty foods.
- Eat boiled, steamed and raw vegetables.
- Reduce the intake of hot and spicy foods.
- Eat sweet foods to reduce Pitta.
- Drink warm milk with a small amount of cardamom and ginger in it.
- Avoid buttermilk, salted cheeses, sour cream and yogurt.
- Ghee and olive oil is best to use.
- Use mild, cooling spices like coriander, cardamom, cloves, turmeric, cumin, curry leaves and mint.
- Avoid jaggery (raw sugar) and molasses if your Pitta is aggravated. Use honey instead.
READ MORE: Pitta Diet: Everything You Need To Know
Rules For The Kapha Diet (How To Balance Kapha)
- Include pungent, bitter and astringent tasting foods into your diet.
- Avoid sweet, sour and salty foods.
- Eat more boiled, steamed and raw vegetables.
- Eating ripe foods will be good to balance Kapha, except for banana. Minimize the intake of heavy foods, salt and dairy products.
- Use raw honey instead of other sweeteners like sugar, brown sugar and maple syrup.
- Use oils in small amounts only. Even the best oil if overused will aggravate Kapha.
- Strong spices like pepper, paprika, garlic, basil, cloves, fennel, mustard, turmeric, cumin, ginger, cardamom, cinnamon, coriander, black pepper will stimulate digestion, improve appetite, clear sinuses and stimulate blood circulation. This is very helpful for balancing Kapha dosha.
READ MORE: Kapha Diet: Everything You Need To Know
Equipment You’ll Need For Ayurvedic Cooking
Before starting with Ayurvedic cooking, you will need to have some basic foods, spices and utensils on hand.
Use the list below as a guideline to slowly establish an Ayurvedic kitchen. Most of the ingredients you will use in your Ayurvedic kitchen are dried and can be stored in your kitchen shelves or counter top.
Every act you perform around food should be loving, honoring and sacred in manner. Whether it is growing your food or buying it in the supermarket, selecting and preparing the food should be in a loving, mindful way.
Food that is cooked with love and pure consciousness brings healing.13
Utensils you will need for Ayurvedic cooking.
- A heavy cast iron frying pan
- A chapati skillet
- 2-3 medium sized pots with lids (stainless steel)
- A soup pot with lid
- A deep pot for frying (preferably cast iron)
- 2-3 mixing bowls, measuring cups and spoons
- Hand egg beater
- A large metal spoon with soup ladle
- A blender
- A chapati rolling pin
- A chopping board
Stocking Your Pantry For Ayurvedic Cooking
An Ayurvedic kitchen must have a few staples.
The first is a high-quality cooking oil. Ayurveda always suggests cooking with pure ghee instead of cooking with canola oil, vegetable oil or peanut oil.
During warmer seasons coconut oil is a good option for cooking because it is cooling in nature. Next, a very important ingredient of your Ayurvedic kitchen is basmati rice. Basmati rice is easier to digest than other grains. Stock up on spices like turmeric, ginger, garlic, cumin, coriander, cilantro, cinnamon, cloves and cardamom.
We’ve already shown you what to eat according to your dosha or your constitution. This may have left you wondering how your dosha— your emotional and physical constitution—plays into all of this.
If you’re predominately a Pitta, cooling foods and spices help balance out your fiery nature. For cooler Vatas, warming foods are better. And for Kaphas, foods that are light, warm and dry work best.
Ayurvedic Cooking For Groups
So how do you create a meal for a group of people or your whole family, everyone having different doshas?
Here the key is to have a moderately spicy main dish, and then ingredients or spices that people can add on top. Avocado, yogurt or a chutney sauce like coriander chutney work well. Individual small dishes can contain extra powdered spices to sprinkle on top. Lime wedges, freshly grated coconut and salt and pepper are also nice to have on hand.
Kitchari—made with rice and lentils and anti-inflammatory spices is the one moderately spicy main meal recipe every single member of your family can relish. This staple of Ayurvedic cooking is important to know how to make. It’s healthy, delicious and can feed a whole family. Plus, it’s a complete meal!
Ayurvedic Cooking: Making Kitchari
- 3 Tbsp clarified butter (or a blend of ghee and oil)
- ½ tsp each of turmeric, cumin, cardamom and black pepper
- 1/4 cup basmati rice
- 1/4 cup split mung beans (or any lentil)
- 1/2 cup chopped carrots
- 1/2 cup chopped celery
- 1/2 cup chopped cilantro
- Small knob of freshly grated ginger
- 3 cups water or stock
- 2 cups of your favorite vegetables
- Topping Ideas: sliced avocado, spinach or chard, cilantro, onion slices, Greek yogurt
Thoroughly wash the basmati rice and split mung beans or other lentil substitutes.
In a heavy pot or deep saucepan, melt two tablespoons of clarified butter or your homemade blend of ghee and oil. Add a half-cup of chopped cilantro, carrots, celery, and freshly grated ginger, covering all in the melted ghee. Sauté this veggie mixture for two minutes.
Add washed rice and mung beans into the veggie mixture, continuing to evenly coat all the ingredients in the ghee or oil blend. Saute this for another couple of minutes. Next add in the water, vegetable stock or bone broth.
Let the ingredients come to a soft simmer, then turn down and cook on low for 30 to 40 minutes with the lid off, stirring occasionally. Once cooking is done, turn off the heat and stir in another tablespoon of ghee and a handful of greens. Cover with a lid and let sit for 20-30 minutes.
Serve with your favorite toppings.
Ayurvedic Cooking With Ghee
You can prepare ghee in your kitchen or you can purchase it in many supermarkets.
Ghee is clarified butter. This means the butter has been processed to remove the milk solids. It is basically butter oil.
There are many splendid uses for ghee. You can use it in place of almost any cooking oil and it will add that beautiful butter flavor without the fear of burning.
Here’s how to prepare ghee at home.
How To Make Ghee
- Place butter in a heavy-bottomed pan.
- Melt over medium-low heat.
- While melting, the whey will float to the top. Skim it off and reserve for future use or compost the whey.
When the milk fat sinks to the bottom and the butter turns clear, you’ve made clarified butter. The milk fat will brown and become fragrant.
- Allow to cool slightly and strain through cheesecloth into a very clean jar.
- Store at room temperature.
Ghee making is a simple process. It requires very little equipment and the results are fantastic with a wide range of health benefits.
Health Benefits Of Ghee
Ghee refers to cow’s ghee. Ghee is also called clarified butter in the U.S.
Ghee is ideal in people with Vata and Pitta body types and those suffering from Vata and / or Pitta dosha imbalance. Ghee balances Pitta dosha and improves digestion. It is perhaps the most beneficial of all the types fats, according to Ayurvedic cooking.
Good digestion is the key to good health. If you’re dealing with any sort of digestive issues, healing your gut lining is an important first step. Ghee is rich in butyric acid, a short-chain fatty acid that nourishes the cells of the intestines.
The ancient Ayurvedic sage Charaka mentioned the qualities of ghee. He said that ghee balances Pitta and Vata. It is conducive (hitakara)torasa dhatu(the first nutrient formed after proper digestion of food), Shukra dhatu (the reproductive system) and ojas (immunity).
It relieves burning sensations of the body, brings softness to the body parts and gives clarity to the complexion and voice.14
Vagbhata, another ancient Ayurvedic scholar, described ghee to be the best among all the fats. It is a coolant, postpones the onset of old age and possesses a thousand good qualities when used in a proper way.15
Ayurvedic Properties Of Ghee
According to the Ayurvedic Pharmacopeia of India, (Part-1, Vol-IV) the Ayurvedic properties of cow’s ghee are as follows.
Taste (Rasa): Sweet (Madhura)
Quality (Guna): heavy (guru), unctuous (snigdha), soft (mrdu)
Potency (Veerya): Cold (sita)
Post Digestive Effect (Vipaka): Sweet (Madhura)
Action (Karma): Agni Deepana, Anabhisyyandi, Ayushya, Balya, Cakshushya, Deepana, Hidya, Kaantiprada, Medhya, Ojovardhaka, Rasayana, Ruchya, Shleshma Vardhana, Snehana, Shukravardhaka, Tejobalakara, Tvacya, Vatapittaprashamana, Vayaasthapna, Vishahara, Virsya.
Cow’s ghee is known to be digested 96% which is highest compared to all other vegetable or animal sources of fats. It contains antioxidants like vitamin E and beta-carotene (600IU) besides other nutrients like phospholipids, diglycerides and triglycerides.16
Cow’s ghee is an integral part of Ayurvedic cooking. It is considered a premier rasayana, a food that helps maintain good health, vitality and longevity. Cow’s ghee is excellent for balancing Vata (air) and Pitta (fire) related doshas (humor). It is a sattvic (healthy) food, which has a pure influence on mind, body and spirit.
Vata type people can enjoy more ghee than Pitta (fire) types who in turn can enjoy more ghee than Kapha (water) types.
Cow’s ghee brings out the aroma and flavor of many foods. It contains no water so it does not spoil easily. It preserves the original freshness and potency of the herbs and foods it is cooked in. No refrigeration is required.16
In the wise world of Ayurveda, you really are what you eat. So eat for your dosha to restore your health. Use Ayurvedic cooking to to create equilibrium in your doshas.
Don’t know your Ayurvedic Body Type or Prakriti? Click HERE to take the FREE Quiz.
1. Susruta Samhita, Sutra Sthana, Chapter 1, verse 28 (54).
2. Dr. Shashi Rekha H.K., Dr. Bargela SushantSukumarr, Charaka Samhita, vol 1, Sutra Sthana, Chaukhamba Publication, 2017, chapter-27, Verse 3, pg-473]3. C. Hotz, R.S. Gibson Traditional food-processing and preparation practices to enhance the bioavailability of micronutrients in plant-based diets J Nutr, 137 (2007), pp. 1097-1100
4. K.R. Srikanth Murthy, Sushruta Samhita, Vol 1, Sutra Sthana, Chaukhamba Orientalia, Varanasi, 2017, Verse-41, pg no. 110
5. Prof. P.V. Sharma, Astanga Samgraha of Vagbhata, Vol 1 Sutra Sthana, Chaukhamba Orientalia, Varanasi, 2017chapter 9, verse 18, pg 203.
6. Dr. Bargale Sushant Sukumar, Dr. Shashirekha H.K., Charaka Samhita Vol 1, Sutra Sthana, Chaukhamba Publications, New Delhi, 2017, chapter 5, verse 3, pg 86
7. Dr. Bargale Sushant Sukumar, Dr. Shashirekha H.K., Charaka Samhita Vol 1, Sutra Sthana, Chaukhamba Publications, New Delhi, 2017, chapter 5, verse 4, pg 86
8. Dr. Bargale Sushant Sukumar, Dr. Shashirekha H.K, Charaka Samhita, Vol 1, Sutra Sthana, Chaukhamba Publications, New Delhi, 2017, verse 32-35, pg 390-391
9. K.R. Srikantha Murthy Vagbhata’s Astanga Hrdayam. 5th ed (Vol. 1). Varanasi: Chaukhambha Orientalia; (2001). p. 53–7.
10. Tripathi B. Pathya Apathya Nirnaya. Delhi: Chaukhamba Sanskrit Pratishthan; (1998). p. 2–4,39.
11. Sharma PV, editor. , editor. Charaka Samhita. (Vol. 1). Varanasi: Chaukhambha Orientalia; (2001). p. 5–9,190,228,375–6. ] Charaka Samhita Vimana Sthana
12. Dr Bargale Sushant Sukumar, Dr. Shashirekha H.K., Charaka Samhita, Vol 2, Vimana Sthana, Chaukhamba Publications, New Delhi, 2017, Chapter 1, verse 2 page-166
13. Ayurvedic Cooking For Self Healing, Usha Lad, Vasant Lad, 2nd edition.
14. Dr. Bargale Sushant Sukumar, Dr. Shashi rekha H.K, Charaka Samhita, Vol 1, Sutra Sthana, Chaukhamba Publications, New Delhi, 2017, Chapter 13, Verse- 14, page 207
15. K.R. Srikantha Murthy, Astanga Samgraha of Vagbhata, Vol 1 Sutra Sthana, Chaukhamba orientalia, Varanasi, 2017, chapter 6, verse-68-71, page 98-99