Ayurveda mentions that the perception of rasa as taste in any food item originates from water. This implies that all the tastes have a predominance of jala-mahabuta, the essence of water. The different combinations of panchmahabhuta ~elements -- prithvi, jala, agni, vayu, akasha -- are responsible for the six different rasas. They are madhura ~sweet, amla ~sour, lavana ~salty, katu ~pungent, tikta ~bitter, and kashaya ~astringent. Each rasa has a characteristic combination of 2 of the elements. These tastes are certainly relevant for ahara (food) but also important when tailoring formulas for Aushadi(medicines).
मधुरो रसः शरीरसात्म्याद्रसरुधिरमांसमेदोस्थिमज्जौजःशुक्राभिवर्धन आयुष्यः षडिन्द्रियप्रसादनो बलवर्णकरः पित्तविषमारुतघ्नस्तृष्णादाहप्रशमनस्त्वच्यः केश्यः कण्ठ्यो बल्यः प्रीणनो जीवनस्तर्पणो बृंहणः स्थैर्यकरः क्षीणक्षतसन्धानकरो घ्राणमुखकण्ठौष्ठजिह्वाप्रह्लादनो दाहमूर्च्छाप्रशमनः
Source: Charaka Samhita, Sutra Sthana, 26/43
Transliteration: madhurō rasaḥ śarīrasātmyādrasarudhiramāṁsamēdōsthimajjaujaḥśukrābhivardhana āyuṣyaḥ ṣaḍindriyaprasādanō balavarṇakaraḥ pittaviṣamārutaghnastr̥ṣṇādāhapraśamanastvacyaḥ kēśyaḥ kaṇṭhyō balyaḥ prīṇanō jīvanastarpaṇō br̥ṁhaṇaḥ sthairyakaraḥ kṣīṇakṣatasandhānakarō ghrāṇamukhakaṇṭhauṣṭhajihvāprahlādanō dāhamūrcchāpraśamanaḥ
The foremost is madhura rasa, often translated as sweet taste. Madhura is the Sanskrt term for appealing, sweet or pleasant. It is a combination of prithvi (earth) and jala (water). As these are the two heaviest elemental forces in nature, the substances which have the predominance of madhura rasa are sweet in taste, often juicy, usually heavy to digest. They are useful because they promote stability, strength and lusture in the body.
Sweet taste is most like the chemical structure of our body at birth, so it is the first food for babies in form of mother's milk. Food items with natural sweetness increases the anabolic activity and thus promotes the nourishment of dhatus, the body tissues. These bodily structures have functions and co-exist and transform into each other when needed.
The 7+1 dhatus are rasa dhatu, the body fluids inside, outside, and between the cells often called plasma or interstitium; rakta dhatu, the life-giving component of the blood; mamsa dhatu, the muscles that cover the bones and hide the vessels and nerves while giving strength for movement; meda dhatu, the types of fatty tissue that insulate and store information and energy; asthi dhatu, the bones and structures that hold the body up; majja dhatu, the contents inside bone, such as bone marrow where the blood cells are born, and the brain contained inside the skullbones; shukra dhatu, the reproductive tissues that serve to replicate to produce a new human being, including the sperm, ovum and all their accessory tissue involved in sexual functions; and ojas, the ultimate indicator of vitality, well-being, and immunity that gives both strength and resistance to diseases. Ultimately, we should understand what to eat to strengthen these tissues and rehabilitate them when needed.
Those foods with naturally sweet taste are loaded with jala and prithvi, interpreted as molecules of carbohydrates, vitamins and antioxidants, which provide solid nourishment to the body. Food items that are predominantly sweet usually have some laxative and carminative properties too, owing to their high fiber content. High fiber drags old food along and calls water into the gut, hence helping to relieve constipation and flow problems. Naturally sweet foods nourish the body, act as revitalizers, and calm our sense organs because they counter excess vata. These properties make sweet food items a remedy for people who want to gain weight with strength and vitality, if they can build a healthy digestive fire to digest them.
Sweet foods can also be useful for women having repeated miscarriages and spontaneous abortions. Used correctly, they remedy deficiency of breast milk. Every ayurvedic physician working with pregnancy and lactation in females has a list of local and seasonal foods and recipes to recommend.
Sweet taste has a pronounced effect on our mind and feelings, so madhura rasa is more about the experience of flavor and not only taste. Sweet taste provides the feeling of satisfaction, cheerfulness, love, compassion, and by calming the senses, they ground us. Persons with mental traits of chronic anger, violence, obsession, and frustration can interrupt these episodes by consuming food items with madhura rasa. Madhura rasa also acts as a brain tonic, improving the resilience of a person. Most madhura rasa foods are considered as sattvic components of the diet, if they are properly made to keep their essence. Many foods with sweet taste alleviate troubles of thirst, burning sensations, loss of sleep, pain and stiffness in the body. Those with roughness and loss of skin lustre should judiciously consume foods having madhura rasa. These enrich the diet with jeevaniya (invigorating) and bṛmhaniya (nourishing) as well as having soothing properties.
Food items with naturally sweet taste include dates, raisins, coconut, cashew. They also include fruits such as apple, banana, mango, melons, figs, and grapes, which are predominantly sweet when ripe. Naturally sweet foods also include vegetables such as sweet potato, carrots, sugarcane beets, and yams. Dairy items of milk, butter and ghee have naturally sweet taste. Some grains and cereals are also naturally sweet for the body, including rice, wheat, and barley. Jaggery and honey include naturally sweet components though they contain other tastes that render them beneficial and medicinal.
Naturally sweet food items should be eaten for their benefits after studying each one. Most people who have not learned about food ingredients, where they grow, how they grow and how they are harvested, stored, processed, and cooked, get confused by the complexity of flavors in items. They cannot distinguish what is naturally sweet taste.
Food items with added sugar such as candies, cakes, and syrups should be curtailed. The excess consumption of simple sugars and added sugars causes undesirable effects on health. Even the sages of ancient times warned that overconsumption of non-natural sweets may cause weight gain, obesity, loss of appetite, laziness, heaviness in body, indigestion, excessive sleep, respiratory troubles as cough and cold, vomiting. These conditions are due to increase in kapha dosha in body combined with dousing of digestive fires, which ultimately impairs the digestion processes and metabolism in body.
एवात्यर्थमुपयुज्यमानः स्थौल्यं मार्दवमालस्यमतिस्वप्नं गौरवमनन्नाभिलाषमग्नेर्दौर्बल्यमास्यकण्ठयोर्मांसाभिवृद्धिं श्वासकासप्रतिश्यायालसकशीतज्वरानाहास्यमाधुर्यवमथुसञ्ज्ञास्वरप्रणाशगलगण्डगण्डमालाश्लीपद- गलशोफबस्तिधमनीगलोपलेपाक्ष्यामयाभिष्यन्दानित्येवम्प्रभृतीन् कफजान् विकारानुपजनयति
Source: Charaka Samhita, Sutra Sthana, 26/43
Transliteration: ēvātyarthamupayujyamānaḥ sthaulyaṁ mārdavamālasyamatisvapnaṁ gauravamanannābhilāṣamagnērdaurbalyamāsyakaṇṭhayōrmāṁsābhivr̥ddhiṁ śvāsakāsapratiśyāyālasakaśītajvarānāhāsyamādhuryavamathusañjñāsvarapraṇāśagalagaṇḍagaṇḍamālāślīpada- galaśōphabastidhamanīgalōpalēpākṣyāmayābhiṣyandānityēvamprabhr̥tīn kaphajān vikārānupajanayati
Those foods with madhura rasa are to be eaten in lesser quantities by people who suffer with cough, breathing difficulty, diabetes, thyroid problems, swelling in the body and excess weight gain. They create obstacles in the channels of the body when they are too plentiful and too heavy to be digested. Eventually the undigested food creates not only blockages, but diseases that are today characterized by molecules and not by the faulty process that has resulted from these foods.
The judicious use of naturally sweet food articles at the right time of day and the right time of year helps to enhance vital life forces in the body and mind, therefore improving the strength, resilience, and general well-being of the person. Depending on the person, their VPK constitution, VPK states of health and disease, location, cureent weather, general climate, mental and physical strength, age, consistency of digestive fire, accustomed and habitual good foods, and access to good ingredients, a diet should in general include madhura rasa in the middle of the day, and increased amounts during the cold seasons when the digestive fire is high.
Avoiding all sweet foods for long periods is also as dangerous as eating too many. Understanding how to select a menu of foods with true madhura rasa and including them in a daily diet is the recipe to a strong, supple body and a centered and strong mind.