About 3,000 years ago in China an approach to cooking was developed that provides full bodied flavors as well as important healthcare functions. According to the rule of five flavors sweet, sour, bitter, pungent, and salty are combined in a meal to achieve balance and harmony.
I have found they also make it easy for me to cook “on the fly” and still maintain excellent flavor. When taste testing, running down the five flavors in my head helps me find what a dish is lacking. I’ve also found foods prepared according to this rule are more satisfying.
OK here is a gross oversimplification of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) There are five body systems, each with a corresponding element and flavor Food is used as medicine and eating the five flavors helps to balance the five organs, thus balancing your health.
The body is designed to get its building blocks from the food we eat. It tries to regulate and balance itself through diet. When we are out of balance our bodies crave the flavor we need to bring everything back in balance. My TCM doctor tells me it’s all about chemistry. There are chemicals in the foods that have restorative and curative properties for the corresponding organs. This is why some foods aren’t in the categories you’d expect. Also some foods have characteristics from more than one category. While some foods like rice are neutral.
When first working with this concept I posted a chart on my refrigerator to help me remember. At the end of this post I’m including a chart you can use.
- Please remember I am not a healthcare professional.
- If you want to use the five flavors to balance / correct a condition please consult a TCM practitioner. As I said I’m presenting a gross oversimplification and there are many other factors to consider.
- Don’t over eat a single flavor unless your body needs it. It can help its associated organ but damage another. Eat in balance to maintain balance.
You don’t need to put all five flavors in one dish, just cover them in the course of a meal; although I often do incorporate them all in things that must stand on their own, like dressings and sauces. A meal with all five flavors might look like this. Salad with vinegar (sour) and oil dressing, asparagus (bitter), Portabella burgers with caramelized onions (pungent), salty potatoes (salt and sweet) and something sweet for dessert (sweet.)
Who says eating healthy has to taste bad?