Foods classified as having the ‘sweet’ taste in Chinese medicine benefit your ‘Earth’, ie your ‘Spleen and Stomach’ energies.
Read more on the question of what ‘taste’ signifies, at Taste in Chinese medicine.
For more on these important subjects, click on Earth, Spleen function and Stomach function. Knowing more about them will help you understand why the sweet taste, and foods classified as ‘sweet’, are important.
Your Earth element, your Spleen and Stomach, look after your digestion and how well you make Blood and energy from what you eat. In turn that Blood goes to nourish your flesh, in particular your musculature.
If you don’t eat enough foods of the sweet taste in Chinese medicine, or what you eat is of poor quality, (or your digestion is poor)
(As many schoolteachers know, under-nourished or malnourished children can’t concentrate or behave properly. When given food, or at least better-quality food, the children settle more easily and enjoy life more. Also, they complain less and learn more.)
2500 years ago the Chinese worked this out and learned which foods benefited the Spleen and Stomach, which they described as having the ‘sweet’ taste. (Not that all such foods actually taste sweet, and you must also remember that modern tastes have been disordered by artificial flavours and too much of one and not enough of another particular taste, which makes our experience of taste rather lop-sided.)
A colleague decided to bring up his two young daughters using firm principles of food taste according to Chinese medicine. I met them when they were around 5 or 6. When offered pudding, after politely tasting it, they pushed it away: it was too sweet – they just weren’t used to it! Those two children seldom got ill, and if they did, they recovered faster than their peers. In particular, they seemed never to suffer from phlegm. If they got ill, which was rare, they generated a fever, burned out the ‘bug’ and then got better: sometimes all within just a few hours. (But then, they had never, as far as I know, been inoculated against anything, probably another huge bonus for their immune systems.)
So what do ‘sweet’ foods do for you? (Please realise that I do NOT mean artificial sweeteners, sugar or honey etc! I mean foods like those listed below, classified as ‘sweet’ in Chinese medicine.) Of course, many foods have other tastes too – for example asparagus is classified as also being slightly ‘bitter’.
Far more foods are ‘sweet’ than in any other taste category, indicating its importance. Indeed, because the sweet taste helps you digest food (it ‘harmonises’ foods of the other flavours, along the lines of ‘a teaspoon of sugar makes the medicine go down!’) so you could say that every meal should contain some ‘sweet’ foods.
Various other factors influence how sweet a given food is, such as
Then there’s the question of how you cook the food. Whatever the food’s underlying quality in terms of temperature (ie whether warming or cooling) how you cook it changes this:
Some sweet taste foods are building, other cleansing. Foods known to build protein are the building foods, whereas fruits and most sweeteners are cleansing.
Reading through the list below you’ll see the sweet flavour includes many foods or liquids with marked differences.
For example, beef and fennel seeds are both sweet, and work on your Earth element – your Spleen and Stomach functions – but in different ways. Beef is full of protein, whereas fennel is a herb and has no protein in it, or precious little. The former helps build muscle, the latter inclines the Earth element to work more efficiently. In addition, fennel is also listed as pungent and warming, whereas beef is neutral in temperature.
Another problem is that many foods, especially fruits (and amongst fruits especially berries and grapes) are now bred to accentuate the sweet taste whereas they used to be more sour – but their sourness is being bred out of them. So grapefruit, traditionally classified as sweet but also sour, is becoming less sour and more sweet.
Also, in the past, the pip or seed carried a bitter taste, compensating for a fruit’s sweetness, but now you can often buy seedless grapes, so even that source of compensating bitterness is going.
Therefore, many sweet foods are becoming sweeter, making us eat more of them, when in the past people might have realised they’d had enough because of the other ‘balancing’ tastes naturally present.
With this increase in sweetness, we may confidently expect an increase in the problems arising when Spleen and Stomach energies are over-stimulated.
For example, we’ll become slower, more lethargic, more phlegmy and more prone to Damp. Too much sweet taste food is also Heating. Believe me, you don’t want Phlegm-Heat or Damp-Heat, which produce problems ranging from cystitis to sinusitis – and much else. Doctors usually prescribe antibiotics for these syndromes though they respond well to Chinese herbs and acupuncture.
In addition, we’ll suffer from more cysts, tumours and swellings. Our digestions will become heavier and we’ll become sleepier after meals than we used to be.
(Although … perhaps … as an old sailor said, ‘All time not spent in sleep is wasted!’?)
That means we’ll probably resort to more stimulants, like coffee – but that’s not all good either: see my page on coffee.
egg of chicken
egg of duck
ginseng (American, Chinese and Korean)
milk (sheep and goat)
mung bean sprouts
sesame (both black and white)
soybeans (black and yellow)
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