Sulfur with a Hint of Chocolate: The Taste of Ayahausca

The first cup of ayahuasca I drank was dark brown, molasses-y and surprisingly sweet, about the viscosity of cough syrup. Bad taste? What are they talking about? I thought, a bit smugly.

That was the first time. I did not yet know how each subsequent cup would become more difficult to down, tasting more and more foul. Kind of like chemotherapy, it’s a cumulative thing: your body knows what it’s in for, and reacts accordingly. For me it’s gotten to the point where my mouth starts watering (not in a good way) when I watch others drink, and I have to avert my eyes to keep my stomach from turning over.

It’s true that every batch tastes different—a different kind of awful, some more so than others. Like wine, ayahuasca seems to have its terroir, its native environment affecting the flavor: Hawaiian is consistently sweet, sometimes cloyingly so; Peruvian tastes, well, ‘like dirt,’ as a friend pithily expressed.

The flavor acts as a warning from Nature that signals: ‘This experience is not gonna be casual in any way.’

Texture too has its place, from brew thin as warm beer to a stickily viscous substance that coats your tongue and throat. The very worst, IMO, is the bottom of a thick bottle, with chunky bits of residue in the sludge that stick between your teeth to time-release bursts of unwanted flavor.

How do people describe the taste of ayahuasca? Words like ‘bitter,’ ‘foul,’ and ‘rancid’ seem to lead the pack. Here are some descriptions from an online forum:
‘Forest rot.’
‘Maple syrup.’
‘Like Marmite.’
‘Like a liquefied corpse.’
‘A combination of tobacco juice and stale espresso, with the consistency and texture of sludge.’
‘It tastes like a tree threw up and then a mushroom ate that throw-up and threw it up again, buried it in the ground for 100 years and then strained it through a shaman’s dirty underwear.’

In a literary vein, Jonathan Talat Phillips mentions ayahuasca’s “bitter, rotten-coffee taste,” while Graham Hancock describes it as “a mixture of foot-rot, raw sewage, battery acid, sulfur and just a hint of chocolate.” Ariel Levy did a good job in her recent New Yorker article:
“I was stunned that divine consciousness—or really anything—could smell quite so foul: as if it had already been vomited up, by someone who’d been on a steady dieta of tar, bile, and fermented wood pulp.”

“It doesn’t get any easier, does it?” the guy next to me muttered as we waited for the cup one evening. The best strategy is simply knock it back fast. Some circles hand out sliced apples or ginger afterwards to cut the taste; plenty of people go and smoke a mapacho. I’ve been known to sneak off to the bathroom and scrub my tongue with baking soda.

Of course, if ayahuasca tasted good—or even neutral—it’s possibe a lot more of us would be drinking it a lot more often. The flavor acts as a built-in screening device, a warning from Nature that signals: This experience is not gonna be casual in any way.

My stomach feels queasy just writing this.

How would you describe the taste of ayahuasca? Add a comment below:

2 comments… add one
  • Honk May 2, 2018, 7:47 pm

    It tasted like grunvalla — a kind of pine tar used to seal the bottoms of old school wooden cross country skis so they’ll hold the waxes thereupon applied. I, like you, didn’t mind the first cup and commented to that effect… everyone laughed. The next cup was not so easy!

    • Kerry Moran May 2, 2018, 9:15 pm

      thanks for a unique comparison to add to the ongoing list!

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