The sweet taste is the dominant one for more of us than any other, and we are naturally drawn to sweet foods. That can be a shame as we know sugar is added to just about every processed food around, even baby food, to the exclusion of other tastes. So children can be led to believe that only the sweet taste is normal and desirable, and the sweeter the better, and that has become a real problem. Especially as extreme sweetness leads us away from appreciating the other necessary tastes and the valuable foods that our bodies need.
Let’s look at natural tasting sweet foods that belong to the harvest time of late summer. Pumpkin (pumpkin pie, above) is obvious, but some of the others surprised me, such as parsnips, cabbage, chinese cabbage, round vegetables such as beetroot, seeds, chestnuts, cooked fruit, coconut milk, and arame sea vegetable. You don’t have to like all of them but if your own natural preference is for sweet foods, some of these will be among your favourites.
And onions? – yes! – think of roasted or slowly sautéed onions and you’ll recall their natural sweetness. In macrobiotics, onions are classified as sweet, but in Ayurveda they are deemed to be astringent. In fact they’re both. Many foods have more than one taste combination. Cooked onions are sweet, raw onions are not – we’re talking about white onions here; red onions are less astringent and are sweeter.
Sweet grains include millet and basmati and sweet brown rice; the sweetest legumes are chickpeas… hummus (left), anyone?
Cooking techniques vary with different seasons too. You know how in mid summertime you prefer raw salads and quick cooking styles – who wants to be standing over a hot stove? And summer veges lend themselves to these techniques. During winter, baking and roasting are more popular. The longer and slower the cooking styles, the more they will draw out the sweetness, especially for root vegetables – who doesn’t love their roasted veges?
In late summer, slow sauté, and steaming with the lid on, are the appropriate cooking techniques for bringing out the natural sweetness in these foods. And many of them are yellow/orange or creamy in colour, which are the colours we associate with their season, when it is not yet autumn. Notice too that many of these harvest time foods are long lasting, good keepers throughout the colder winter months, when we need the sweet taste to lift our moods in the darker winter days.
Sweet foods tend to be heavy on digestion, and with eating too much of them that’s their effect – heavy in every sense – that they tend to have on your body.
The sea vegetable for the harvest time is Arame and it definitely lightens any heaviness! It doesn’t have the stronger taste of other sea veges and I love it served with brown rice. Known in the west as Sea Oak and found throughout the Pacific coastal shores, arame fronds are dried and cut into thin, fine strips. It’s high in iron, niacin, calcium, iodine, fibre and complex carbohydrates. Here’s a quick recipe to try:
Soak a small handful of arame in cold water for a few minutes; it will swell. Thinly slice some carrot. Lift out the arame fronds, leaving any grit in the bottom of the bowl, and place in a saucepan with the carrot and cover with water. Sprinkle with shoyu or tamari. Simmer gently, partly covered, for a few minutes until the carrots are cooked. There will be a little liquid left. You can either drain the arame and mix it through the rice or veges (it will be slightly salty from the sauce), or serve it with the liquid. The liquid can also be used as a stock. Any left over will keep in the fridge for a couple of days if covered.
My favourite brand for sea vegetables is Mitoku from Japan, available from health food stores. More on sea vegetables here http://www.marksdailyapple.com/a-visual-guide-to-sea-vegetables/#axzz35982a2DZ
These naturally sweet foods also have a naturally more descending or stabilising energy. The positive energies associated with this include compassion, empathy and roundedness. But when its out of balance, the negative characteristics are self pity and complaining and coldness.
So it pays to use the other tastes to enrich your life.
In fact, my next blog on the stimulating pungent good taste will highlight exactly how to do that.