Diet, food, recipe, Traditional Chinese Medicine

How to balance the Five Flavours perfectly in a meal

The more colours the better! Vegies for the omelette.
The five flavours in fruit and vegetable form.

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.

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

Ingredients:

  • 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

Method:

  1. Warm olive oil in pan and fry eggplant until golden in small batches.  Remove from pan and drain on paper towel.
  2. In same pan, saute cumin seeds, garlic, currants and almonds until golden.  Add tomato and oregano until browned.  Remove from heat.
  3. 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.

Diet, food, herbal medicine, pregnancy, recipe, Traditional Chinese Medicine

Preserved lemons: traditional Chinese use and a recipe

lemons preservedA couple of months ago I put on my very first batch of home made preserved lemons. I did a deal with my parents. They supplied the homegrown organic lemons and two big jars, and I’d do the hard work of slicing, juicing, salting and storing – we’d end up with a big jar of the finished product each.

Well, as it turns out they are as delicious as any I’ve ever bought and well worth the two month wait. I followed the Poh’s Kitchen recipe but I left my lemons in halves split down the middle (as if quartered) but still attached by the rind. I stuffed the salt into the split.

Preserved lemons are often associated with Moroccan cooking, in particular tagines. But they also have been used in parts of Asia.  When I was teaching Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) dietetics class last semester our very traditional Chinese text mentioned the preserved lemon. This salty and sour delicacy was said to be useful for “vomiting and loss of appetite or threatened abortion.” Which makes it a good food for relieving morning sickness. In fact, many women find that lemon or lime juice added to water does ease nausea associated with pregnancy. As for preventing miscarriage, well there are no clinical trials to back up this claim (and if you suspected that your pregnancy was at risk I’d be recommending a medical check up). But this traditional use relates to the the sour flavour which has an astringent, constricting quality and the salty flavour which benefits the Kidneys (the organ in TCM responsible for reproduction and birth, among many other functions). Another text recommends them for Phlegm-Heat disorders including bronchitis and sinusitis and Liver Qi stagnation (if you don’t know what that is click here).

The other interesting thing about Chinese preserved lemons is that they are said to be a specialty of around the city of Nanning in Guangxi province, China. It was in this region that I completed my acupuncture internship at several teaching hospitals. The Zhuang people, an ethnic minority, used preserved lemons in their congee (Chinese rice porridge). Their preserved lemons are stored for far longer (eg. years) and look quite different. Here’s some more information and a recipe. Interestingly, during my studies in Nanning I also learned some traditional medicine techniques of the Zhuang people.

lemons lemons juiced lemons halved

I think they are simply delicious. If you want some recipes that feature preserved lemons as an ingredient, click here.

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.