The ancient system of the five elements builds the basis for Chinese nutrition. Wood, fire, earth, metal and water: all elements influence each other and are connected in a continual interplay. All foods are assigned to an element according to their taste. Likewise, the organs are linked to the elements. This allows us to assume that taste has an effect on the organs.

The sour taste

The sour taste is assigned the element wood, because it strengthens and bundles its energy and subsequently protects from excessive expansion. The direction is therefore Yin.

Most of the sour foods have a refreshing energy, which is extremely favorable for the wood organs. The fundamental effect of these refreshing foods lies in the fact that the bodily fluids are preserved and consolidated. During sport activities or when it is summertime, fruit teas and sour fruits fulfill this function.

The sour taste contracts. This is not desirable, especially when you have a cold. In this case it is very unfavorable to consume tropical fruits, tomatoes or fruit teas. The astringent movement of the sour taste causes the cold to move from the body surface to the inside, making it harder to remove. In certain circumstances this may cause damage.

Sour: cranberries, lime, lemon, pickled cabbage and vegetables, kimchi, rose hips, quince, sour plums

Sour and sweet: azuki beans, grapes, mango, olives, blackberries, raspberries, sourdough bread, tomatoes, yogurt, mushrooms

Sour and bitter: vinegar, orange peel, candied orange

The bitter taste

The bitter taste is assigned the element of fire. The foods of the fire element have two main qualities:

They dry out and channel Qi down the body. They are an essential aid in digestion, especially of fat. By roasting and grilling acquired bitter substances or using stimulants such as cigarettes, coffee or black tea you will experience the drying out effect through lack of moisture. In the short term this means that your mental and physical activity will increase.

Excessive consummation of these stimulants can cause a number of negative symptoms. Nervousness, inner restlessness and sleep disorders are the main signs often seen in people who are stressed. Foods with natural bitter substances such as chicory, rocket, dandelion, grapefruit, etc. have a positive drying effect and are therefore used efficiently when it comes to the moisture in our bodies.

Bitter: sprouts such as alfalfa, romaine lettuce, endives, echinacea, camomile, rye

Bitter and spicy: lemon zest, radish leaves, white pepper

Bitter and sweet: asparagus, amaranth, quinoa, celery, papaya, cocoa

Bitter and sour: vinegar, pickles

The sweet taste

The sweet taste is linked to Earth. The earthy foods strengthen our core and nourish us. Mild, sweet and satisfying foods make up the largest part of nutrition. Sweet builds Chi. This statement relates to almost all grains, meats, vegetables, eggs, fats and nuts – therefore to all things nourishing and satiating.

In today’s society the sweet taste is a problem child. Sugar, which often provides us with instant relief of tension and sadness, can console us and can be used in small quantities as medicine, leads to a lethargic manner and aggression when consumed in excess. It delivers the breeding ground for degenerative diseases such as impotence, osteoporosis, osteoarthritis, cardiovascular diseases, cancer, herpes, fungal infections, the formation of mucus in the sinuses, polyps and menstrual problems. Too much salt creates a desire for sweet, and vice versa.

The craving for sweets has its origin in a Chi deficiency of the spleen. Grains, earthy vegetables such as carrots or potatoes, fruits and many other foods of the earth element have a positive hydrating and thus juice-building effect. Dairy products on the other hand have a negative effect.

Sweet vegetables like pumpkin, steamed carrots, sweet rice, sweet potatoes or chestnuts replace a ‘granulated sugar dessert’ and provide a calm, gentle mindset.

The spicy taste

Spicy dissipates cold – this is true for metal foods. The heat that is generated, helps with the external as well as with the internal cold.

When the climatic cold infiltrates the body, spiced warm drinks such as ginger tea or mulled wine can help open the pores. One starts to sweat and the invaded cold is discharged in this way.

In case of the internal cold (cold feet, cold body sensations, frequent nocturnal urination, etc.) the regular intake of hot spices or spiced teas will increase the heat in the body.

Spicy moves the Chi. By using hot spices and alcohol in cooking, we get our energy (Chi) moving. When experiencing low blood pressure, a Chi or Yang deficiency, it is advisable to use mild-hot spices regularly in small quantities. Eating very spicy foods over a long period of time can lead to heat. This is particularly true with already existing internal heat or high blood pressure.

Spicy: ginger, cinnamon, garlic, leek, basil, mustard seeds, peppercorns, radishes, nutmeg, onions, chilli

The salty taste

Too much salt hardens. This is the motif of the water foods. The salty taste arises from the kidneys. The kidneys are divided into the Yang or fire kidney and the Yin or water kidney.

The salty taste in its origin has a wonderful emollient effect. Salts also have a cooling effect, and the movement direction is down-and-in (clearly Yin). It can be detoxifying for the body in the sense that it can move the intestines and induce vomiting. Among the salty foods is everything that smells of the sea such as seaweed, fish or seafood. Seaweed is used in the prevention and treatment of cancers in many Asian countries.

Too much salt interferes with the absorption of various nutrients and lowers the calcium blood level. All of us consume a lot of salt on a daily basis, i.e. salty sausages, cheese, ready-made products, mineral water, etc. In excess, salt does not soften but harden. It dries out the body. The body then uses up the good juices, in particular kidneys (yin). The consequence might be that the salts deprive the bones from those important minerals.

The problem of osteoporosis still does not exist in Asian countries. In these countries, the regular consumption of seaweeds and the avoidance of dairy products ensures that the bones are perfectly cared for with calcium. Seaweed contains many important minerals. The down-and-in motion of the seaweed prompts the body to store the minerals inside the bones. The calcium that is found in our milk, on the other hand, deposits itself on the outside of the bones, possibly causing joint problems. Therefore, in Asian countries, milk and dairy products are avoided as much as possible.

Advice for a healthy way of dealing with salt:

Salty: Nori, Tamari, Shoyu, Miso, millet, pork, ham