the Five Tastes
Lenore Y. Baum, M.A.
-excerpted from Lenore's Natural Cuisine cookbook
Often people cannot stop eating even
though they are full. Why is this? According to traditional Asian
medicine, the body requires five tastes: sweet, salty, sour, bitter and
pungent. These tastes nourish the internal organs and satisfy the taste
buds. If any of the tastes are lacking in the diet, your body will be
unsatisfied, causing cravings. By understanding how this principle affects
you, you can begin to control your appetite.
Sweet is the most
sought-after taste. Americans frequently choose candy, soda or commercial
pastries to try to meet this craving. However, what the body really needs
are naturally-occurring complex carbohydrates like carrots, sweet corn,
yams, onions and winter squash. Only then will the pancreas, which
regulates the blood sugar level, be satisfied.
Another favorite taste
is salty. Good quality salt, in moderation, is necessary for digestion,
nerve connections and muscle contractions. In addition, it assists the
immune system by inhibiting the growth of harmful bacteria, viruses,
fungi, parasites and by enhancing proper intestinal flora. Recommended
high quality sources of salt are unrefined sea salt, miso, shoyu, gomashio
and sea vegetables.
Lemon, lime and
sauerkraut are commonly known sour foods. But, most people do not eat them
on a regular basis. This taste is needed to nourish the liver and gall
bladder. Including naturally fermented pickles is an easy way to give a
sour, salty crunch to any meal. In addition, Umeboshi or brown rice
vinegar adds a delicious splash of sour when sprinkled on cooked
The average American
rarely eats bitter-tasting foods. Since bitter nourishes the heart,
traditional medicine maintains that a lack of this taste can contribute to
heart disease. There are several easy ways to include bitter in the diet.
Add endive, chicory or radicchio to salads, or garnish soups with parsley.
Eat tabouli, celery sticks and bitter greens such as kale and collards.
Or, for a quick fix, drink an instant grain cereal coffee alternative,
like Roma®, after your meal.
The last taste,
pungent, is also described as spicy. It supports the lungs and large
intestines. Its properties help the body disperse fat from oily foods.
Fresh garlic and ginger, mustard, turnips, scallion, red radish, daikon
radish and horseradish are included in this category.
principle of the five tastes theory is that opposite flavors are
complementary. For example, eating sweets causes cravings for salty foods
and vice-versa. In contrast, when you eat a meal including all five
tastes, you feel completely nourished. You will not snack on additional
food later to satisfy your out-of-balance cravings.
The recipes in this book take these principles into account. For example, hummus contains pungent garlic and sour lemon. These ingredients help to balance the oil in Tahini. Salt brings out sweetness when sautéing onions. With practice and observation, you will learn to create your own balanced recipes and meals.In the end, do not let this information overwhelm you. A balanced meal can be as simple as a bean soup, cooked grain, steamed greens and a few pickles. You might want to make a copy of the table below to help you plan balanced meals using the five tastes.