Out of the six ‘rasas’ or tastes as defined in Ayurveda, the Indian science of healing, ‘Katu,’ rasa is pungent taste or very spicy and hot taste. This taste is made up of fire and air elements. The nerve endings present in the tip of the tongue are titillated when this taste is consumed. The irritation caused by katu rasa increases salivation, stimulates nasal secretion and even brings tears to one’s eyes. Hot, pungent foods can bring a flush to the cheeks. This taste pacifies Kapha but aggravates Pitta and Vata.
Source: Chilli pepper, Black pepper, Habanera and Cayenne pepper are few of the direct sources of this taste. Spices such as ginger, mustard, onion and garlic are also pungent in taste.
Physical effects: Pungent tatse improves Agni or the digestive fire in the body thus aid the digestive process. Since the digestion improves and accumulated toxins released, the pungent taste can dry body fat and increase the absorption of water in the body. Heat is produced in the body thus breaking down clots in circulation. If consumed in significant or even little amounts directly it causes watering of the eyes and nose.
Psychological effects: Pungent taste brings immediate attention into the present moment due to its sharp, penetrating effect. This aids in clarity of mind and increases attention.
Adverse effects: If consumed in excess then the pungent taste causes inflammation and irritation as Pitta is aggravated. It can cause diarrhea, ulcers, giddiness, insomnia and even some skin conditions. It increases thirst and can cause pain in the muscles of the back. Katu also reduces virility as can deplete semen or shukra dhatu.