Eastern Medicine & Natural Healing, Health for the Body, Nutrition, Traditional Chinese Medicine

The Five Flavors

March 25, 2015
Five Flavors

I have been talking quite a bit about the thermal nature (cold and hot, yin and yang) of foods. Another important property that foods possess is its flavor or taste. In Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), there are five distinct flavors that also correlate with The Five Element Theory (another fundamental Chinese medicine theory). The flavors themselves have a thermal nature (read more about thermal nature here) as well as healing and restorative actions that can be used therapeutically to affect various organ systems.

The five flavors are sour, bitter, sweet, pungent, and salty.

Pungent and sweet are considered yang, warming, and their energies travel outward and up the body. Sour, bitter, and salty are yin, cooling and move energy inward and down the body.

According to the Five Element theory, the flavors are also closely associated with and affect our internal organs as follows:

  • Sour flavor associates with the liver and gall bladder (e.g., lemon, lime, pickles, sauerkraut, sour apple).
  • Bitter flavor associates with the heart and small intestine (e.g., alfalfa, bitter melon, romaine lettuce, rye).
  • Sweet flavor associates with the spleen, pancreas and stomach (e.g., apple, apricot, cherry, date, fig, beet, carrot, eggplant, squash, sweet potato, yam, most grains, all legumes such as beans, peas, lentils, most meats, dairy products).
  • Pungent flavor associates with the lungs and large intestine (e.g., spearmint, rosemary, garlic and all onion family members, all hot peppers, cayenne, fennel, anise, dill, mustard greens, horseradish, basil, nutmeg).
  • Salty flavor associates with the kidneys and bladder (e.g., salt, seaweed, soy sauce, miso).

Of course most foods will possess a combination of flavors (e.g., raspberries are sour and sweet, scallions are bitter and pungent, celery is bitter and sweet).

The flavors should be balanced in a healthy person’s diet, with the sweet flavor being the most important flavor, since its associated organs, the stomach, spleen, and pancreas, are located in the central part of the body where we digest and assimilate our food to receive the most nourishment. (As you can see in the above examples, many foods are sweet).  However, while the flavors benefit their associating organs, eating too much will actually result in the opposite effect and weaken the organ’s function. The take home message — flavors should also be balanced and in moderation. Are you sensing a pattern here? Balance is key.

What you need to know:

  • All foods are categorized into five flavors – sour, bitter, sweet, pungent, or salty.
  • Each flavor is also associated with and affects different internal organs in our bodies.
  • Eating foods of certain flavors, in moderation, benefits the organs it is associated with. (e.g. sour foods strengthen the liver and gall bladder, bitter foods strengthen the heart and small intestine, etc)

I will revisit this concept later and explain more in depth the function of each flavor.

Have a great day!

In health and wellness,
Dr. Elain

Healing with Whole Foods by Paul Pitchford

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