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Five Tastes--Many Impacts

by Eva Koveos

Sauces, Seasonings, and Spices

Spring Volume: 1998 Issue: 5(1) page(s): 15


Taste impacts appreciation of food by the person who consumes it. Chinese people believe that there are five different tastes and each one effects how the body functions. The five tastes: pungent, salty, sour, bitter, and sweet have a long history affecting different parts of the body, taste nourishing the different organs. Their thoughts are that the lungs and large intestine absorb pungent tastes, kidneys and the urinary tract salty tastes, liver and gallbladder sour tastes, heart and small intestine bitter tastes, and that the spleen and stomach absorb sweet tastes.

Specific organs are strengthened by a small amount of the corresponding taste, but weakened by an excess of the same taste. Thus, a small exposure to sweet taste strengthens the spleen and stomach and the body's digestive capacity while an excess of sweet taste over time weakens the body's ability to digest and assimilate. Sauces, seasonings, and spices make or impact different tastes.

Pungent: The pungent taste, also called acrid or spicy, generally has warm-to-hot energy. It stimulates the circulation of blood, energy, lymphatic fluid, and other fluid secretions such as sweat, saliva, tears; and nerve energy. The pungent taste counteracts poor digestion, poor circulation, coldness, and mucus production. It moves energy from the inside to the outside of the body opening pores and facilitating sweat. This taste is especially useful in counteracting surface ailments such as colds, flu, and congestion due to mucus. Spicy tastes have direct effects on lungs and large intestine.

Pungency disperses energy and blood, especially to the surface of the body, where it often leaves through sweat. It can, in excess, exhaust energy reserves, cause fingernails and toenails to wither, and tighten the tendons decreasing flexibility. As such, pungent foods should be used only as needed. Ginger, black pepper, and red peppers are considered with pungent taste.

Salt: The energy of salty taste is cold; it stabilizes and regulates fluid balance. It also has a softening effect. Salty taste is beneficial when treating hardened lymph nodes, tight muscles, constipation, hard lumps, masses, and cysts. This taste directly affects the kidneys, adrenal glands, and the bladder. An excessive craving for salt may indicate impending adrenal exhaustion.

In excess, salt can cause water retention and high blood pressure. However, it is important to know that foods that are high in mineral salts do not generate excess salt. Kelp is an example of a food with a salty taste.

Sour: The sour taste is cooling, drying, astringent, and refreshing. It dries up mucus and tightens and tones tissues and muscles. Sour tastes help stop bodily discharges such as excessive perspiration, diarrhea, seminal emission, frequent urination, copious mucus, and bleeding. They also stimulate digestion and metabolism. Through its stimulation of bile, sour tastes help breakdown fats and facilitate absorption; they also help drain and expel excesses in the liver and the gallbladder.

In excess, sour tastes can harm digestion by coating the mucous linings of the stomach and intestines. They cause poor digestion and poor absorption. Sour tastes also toughen the flesh. Items with sour taste include schisandra and orange peel.

Bitter: The bitter tastes are cooling, drying, detoxifying, and anti-inflammatory. They eliminate bodily dampness and reduce secretions such as in diarrhea and skin abscesses. These tastes also stimulate the secretion of bile, which in turn sparks digestive fires and stimulates normal bowel elimination. Bitter substances help protect the body against parasites and they clear the blood of cholesterol. Thus bitter tastes strengthen the heart and small intestine and cleanse the blood. In excess, the Chinese believe bitter substances can be drying, can cause the skin to wither, and body hair to fall out. They also believe that sweet cravings can be alleviated by ingesting foods with bitter tastes. Bitter foods include gentian, rhubarb, and apricot seed.

Sweet: The sweet tastes are warming, tonifying, and harmonizing. These tastes have the ability to strengthen individuals with lack of energy and weak blood; this is why people with low energy are drawn to sweets. However, these individuals generally choose simple sweets, such as sugary snacks. Ultimately, simple sweets deplete energy by causing blood sugar to rise and drop sharply. Complex carbohydrates, protein, and sweet-tasting herbs strengthen the body and give it energy.

Excessive ingestion of sweet tastes leads to congestion and lethargy and it may sedate digestive fires. Too much food with sweet tastes can cause aching bones and joints and they can accelerate hair loss. Items such as ginseng, red dates, and cinnamon are sweet-tasting.
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Eva Koveos often writes about Chinese foods. She has a long love-affair with the cuisine, is fascinated with its health history, and is increasing her knowledge by completing her dietetic internship.

                                                                                                                                                       
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