When we think of a well balanced meal, we tend to think of a balance between vegetables, proteins, carbohydrates and a serving or two of greens. According to TICM, there is one key factor we look for when we are trying to make a balanced meal, which is taste.
In all ancient systems of medicine, the flavour of foods and herbs are used with a purpose. Flavours are so important in TICM because each taste nourishes a specific organ system. Based on the 5 element framework, each taste is correlated with a colour, elemental property, season, a type of cold or warm energy (Yin or Yang energy), and a specific organ. The five tastes are bitter, salty, sweet, sour and pungent.
It is said that sour flavour can calm the body, bitter can clear heat, sweet can tonify the body, spicy can expel wind and cold and salty can help the body dissolve stagnation. By incorporating the 5 flavour profiles in our meals it not only satisfies our taste buds but our nutritional needs and even our emotions. Just as everything is about balance in TICM, so is taste. It is said that a little of a particular taste can strengthen an organ system, whereas excess can weaken it.
The more you strive to eat all the different flavours and use foods that are in season, the more in harmony and healthy your body will be. Wu Wei Zi (Schisandra) is an adaptogen that is dubbed the five flavour berry in TICM because it harmonises all the organs due to encompassing all the flavors listed below. Will do a follow up post on benefits, but I make my own tea using raw wild crafted herb.
Bitter: clears heat from the body, especially in the Heart and Small Intestine channels. This heat is heightened during early and midsummer and can manifest into symptoms like a red face, feeling angry or extra emotional, Heart palpitations, anxiety, insomnia and ulcers in the mouth. Foods like kale, bitter melon, dandelion greens, parsley, endive, mustard greens, collard greens, burdock root, sesame seeds are all bitter and help these symptoms.
Sweet: correlates to the Spleen, Stomach and Pancreas, the organs that absorb and distribute sugar and digest food. Sweet flavors like corn, pumpkin, sweet potato help while refined sugars weaken their actions. This flavour is at peak during late summer and is symbolic to the Earth element.
Pungent: also known as spicy, this flavour invigorates the Lungs, which are our first defense of the body, expelling pathogens like wind and cold. This includes ginger, garlic, onions, daikon, garlic, black pepper. The season to use this flavor for the moist healing power is Autumn.
Salty: just as the Kidneys regulate mineral and fluid balance in our bodies, so does salt. This flavour correlates to the Winter season and the color black. Foods like black beans, seaweed and black sesame seeds are great for Kidney function as well as miso, shellfish, eggplants, walnuts and chestnuts.
Sour: goes along with the Liver and is highlighted in the Spring. Foods like sauerkraut, fermented fruits and vegetables, pickled vegetables, green apples, lemon, lime, fermented foods fit the flavour profile. The Liver is all about detoxification and the smooth flow of vital energy (Qi) and Blood and these foods help to ignite the harmony of this mesmerising organ.