From Sweet to Salty: The Five Flavors in TCM

An old Chinese proverb says, “A disease can have many fathers, but the mother of every disease is the wrong diet.” The idea behind this is that one should not bring the body into harmony and harmony unchecked with medicines, but above all with a healthy and balanced diet. Already several thousand years ago Chinese herbal textbooks described herbs and foods and their effect on the balance of yin and yang. Chinese nutrition teachings divide the foods not only into yin and yang, but also into the five flavors: sweet, sour, bitter, spicy, and salty. The five flavors are in turn assigned to the five elements and the organs of the human body on which they have a special influence.

If you follow the five-element diet, each meal should optimally contain all five flavors. If you find a good balance, the organs can work together harmoniously and the Qi flow evenly. It is also interesting to note that the immediate taste we feel when we eat a food is not necessarily indicative of which flavor it is associated with. Did you know, for example, that beef tastes sweet according to TCM?

The sweet taste corresponds to the element earth and can develop its effect especially in spleen and stomach. It strengthens the middle – but of course sweet foods should not be consumed too much. Anyone who has a constant craving for sweets should cut out industrial sugar as much as possible from the nutritional plan and instead resort to the natural sweetness of grains, fresh fruits and vegetables. Especially suitable are foods such as potatoes, carrots, millet, chicken and cherries.

The sour taste is related to the transformation phase of wood and has a special relation to the liver. The group of sour foods include lemon, vinegar, apple, champagne, tomatoes, yogurt and duck. They are astringent, tend to cool and can be enjoyed in moderation to support the liver. In addition, they keep the humors and guide them inwards.

The bitter taste is organically assigned to the heart and the small intestine and corresponds to the element of fire. Bitter foods such as coffee, black tea, arugula, rosemary, thyme or grapefruit have a soothing, drying, lowering and anti-inflammatory effect. If you take too much bitter, it can dry out the humors and weaken the spleen. Internal restlessness and sleep disorders can then be the result. Because bitter spices have a digestive effect, they should be used regularly during cooking.

The sharp taste goes hand in hand with the element metal and the organs lung and large intestine. Examples of spicy foods are pepper, chili, garlic, ginger, radish, radish, onion, celery, cabbage and peppermint. The sharpness unfolds its sudorific effect and supports the circulation of blood and qi. Due to their strong thermal effect, spicy foods should not be eaten in too large quantities.

The salty taste belongs to the element water and the organs bladder and kidney. The salty diet has a cooling, moisturizing effect and can soften accumulations of moisture and mucus. If the daily diet contains too much salt, it can disturb the body’s fluid balance and cause heat, thirst, and high blood pressure. In addition to salt, algae, seafood, pork, some fish, lentils, peas and soy sauce are among the salty foods.