The role of flavour combination is quite important in Traditional Chinese Medicine, as it is to eat according to the season, since each season presents different challenges for the organism. It is also vital to adapt the food plan to each individual, because each human being has a different constitution and may require different nutritional focus.
In a nutshell: there are 5 main organs, according to Traditional Chinese Medicine, and there are 5 main flavours associated with each organ.
Heart – bitter
Liver – sour
Spleen – sweet
Lungs – spicy
Kidneys – salty
These flavours help the function of the organism and they should be harmonized in such a way that promotes balance within the body and therefore health! This means that the ideal healthy meal will have a good harmonisation between the 5 flavours making it quite satisfying and nourishing, concept that Master Mantak Chia addresses in detail in the brilliant Cosmic Nutrition!
Each flavour has their own role:
Sour can calm the organism.
Bitter can clear the heat.
Sweet can tonify the organism.
Spicy can expel wind and cold.
Salty can help dissolve stagnation.
The flavour goes first to the corresponding organ and nutrition has a major role on each organ’s balance. When an organ is unbalanced, the body may inform which organ it is through cravings of a particular flavour.
Since bitter flavour cleares the heat from the body, this is especially good for the heart. Ulcers in the mouth, red face, emotional turmoil, heart palpitations, insomnia, anxiety, dar or yellow urine may be signs of excess heat. Including bitter flavour in meals can be helpful to balance the organism. The healthiest bitter flavour would be the cruciferous vegetable family, which includes: broccoli, brussels sprouts, cabbage, kale and radishes.
All the organs have a major role digesting emotions, but the emotional compass is particularly heavy in the liver case. A person with a liver imbalance may be easily angered or irritated which may translate into headaches, dizziness, high blood pressure, red face and eyes, insomnia, bloating and constipation. In such situations, the person may harmonize the meals with a little bit more of a sour flavour, because they will calm the organism. Sour flavours are included in tomato, orange, kiwi, dragon fruit, vinegar or lime.
Spleen is the organ that dominates digestion, including transformation, transportation and absorption of nutrients. Lack of energy, stomach or abdominal bloating, irregular bowel movement, weight gain, puffy arms or legs, insomnia or under-active thyroid may be the sign of a spleen imbalance. This may lead into craving sweet flavours, since sweet contributes to tonify the spleen qi.
One of the reasons why we give children sweets is because they are still developing the spleen and eating certain amounts of sweet foods can help children’s development and growth (note: balanced amounts of sweet natural foods such as certain fruits).
The kidneys are one of the most important organs for Traditional Chinese Medicine, for this is where the essence is stored. Lack of energy, low back pain, knees, ankles, heels or general joint pain, tired legs, poor memory, frequent urination (especially during the night), early greying of hair, early menopause, impotence, delayed walking or talking in children may indicate weak kidneys. This can be counterbalanced with a balanced ingestion of natural salty foods, such as for example: sea cucumber, black beans, walnuts, chestnuts and goji berries.
Salt is essential for life and some Chinese medicine herbal formulas are advised t be taken with salty water so that their effect reaches the kidneys first.
The lungs are the first defense of the organism, since breathing is essential for our survival and the lungs will fight external pathogenic factors when they invade. Sneezing, runny nose, blocked nose, cough, headache, body aches, no sweating, feeling cold or sore throat are signs of lung imbalance.
Spicy flavour goes to the lungs first, expelling the wind and cold pathogenic factors from the body, especially during cold seasons. That is the main reason why ginger, garlic, onion or pepper can be so effective to boost the immune system and avoid colds or flus.
It is important not to over do it with the flavour, otherwise it may have the opposite effect and create imbalance in the organism. As in everything, balance is the key! Each flavour may help its respective organ and contribute to overall health and vitality when properly blended and harmonised with the other flavours to create a nourishing balancing meal!