In Chinese Medicine we class every food according to its temperature, affinity with different parts of the body and its flavour.
There are five key flavours and a food may fall into more than one category. Each flavour has a different effect on the body, as follows:
- Bitter (Fire element): drying and downbearing. Bitter foods are good for promoting excretion of excess fluids (dampness) and stimulating digestion.
- Sweet (Earth element): warming, strengthening and moistening. Sweet foods give us fuel for energy and are particularly useful in times of weakness. They also nourish our body fluids.
- Pungent (Metal element): aid circulation and promote sweating. Pungent foods help to move stagnation and tension in the body, as well as improving blood flow. These foods also push ‘upwards and outwards’ promoting a sweat which is why they are also used during acute colds and flu.
- Salty (Water element): cooling, softening and moistening. Salty foods can alter fluid balance in the body and in some cases may promote bowel movements. They soften hardness (think of epsom salts in the bath).
- Sour (Wood element): astringe and preserve fluids. Sour foods close the pores and promote an inward movement to nourish our body fluids and subdue anger. (Think of the face you pull when you eat a lemon – these babies’ faces say it all!.
While all of the flavours need to be consumed in moderation and then increased or decreased according to each person’s current health condition, sweet and salty foods should be particularly used sparingly in modern diets, unless a person’s health condition suggests otherwise. A Chinese Medicine practitioner can guide you in this area.
In the modern diet, bitter foods are eaten rarely and there is usually cause for most western people to increase their intake of bitter foods.
For a person in a good state of health we usually recommend a consumption of all of the flavours in moderation. Cooking in Asian cultures often pays close attention to the seasoning of dishes to represent a balance of flavours. A classic example is ‘pho’ (Vietnamese noodle soup) which is served with fresh chilli and mint (pungent), lemon/lime (sour), carrot and mung bean sprouts (sweet), green leafy vegetables (bitter) and fish and/or soy sauce (salty).
Here’s a western recipe (that I have blogged about before) which brings together these five flavours perfectly:
Mediterranean eggplant salad
- 2 large eggplants, cubed, salted, drained and dried
- olive oil for frying
- 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
- 2 garlic cloves, sliced
- 1 tablespoon currants
- 2 tablespoons slivered almonds
- 6 roma tomatoes, quartered lengthways
- 1 teaspoon oregano
- 2 red chillies, sliced finely
- 2 tablespoons lemon juice
- handful of parsley, chopped
- 1/2 preserved lemon, discard flesh and slice rind finely
- a few handfuls of green leafy vegetables: baby spinach, cress and/or rocket leaves
- Warm olive oil in pan and fry eggplant until golden in small batches. Remove from pan and drain on paper towel.
- In same pan, saute cumin seeds, garlic, currants and almonds until golden. Add tomato and oregano until browned. Remove from heat.
- Add fried eggplant, chilli, lemon juice, parsley, preserved lemon and spinach to the tomato mixture. Season with black pepper. Allow to sit at room temperature for 30 minutes prior to serving.
Here is the breakdown of this recipe according to the flavours:
- Bitter: oregano, parsley and green leafy vegetables.
- Sweet: eggplant, currants, cumin, tomato and almonds.
- Pungent: cumin, garlic, oregano and chilli.
- Salty: preserved lemon, eggplant (once salted and rinsed).
- Sour: tomato, lemon juice and preserved lemon.
Perfect balance. Enjoy this recipe. It’s delicious!
To book an appointment at the clinic or further information on Chinese Medicine contact Dr Sarah George (Acupuncture). Sarah is a practitioner of acupuncture (AHPRA registered), massage therapy and natural health.