The Five Flavors of Foods

The five flavors of food include pungent (acrid), sweet, sour, bitter, and salty. Pungent foods include green onion, chive, clove, parsley, and coriander. Sweet foods include sugar, cherry, chestnut, and banana. Sour foods include lemon, pear, plum, and mango. Bitter foods include hops, lettuce, radish leaf, and vinegar (listed as bitter because it has both sour and bitter tastes). It is common for one food to have multiple flavors. Salty foods include salt, kelp, and seaweed. These flavors are important in Chinese diet because each flavor has specific effects on the internal organs. For example, pungent flavors can act on the lungs and large intestine, while sweet flavors act on the stomach and spleen.

In Chinese diet, foods with a sweet flavor are considered capable of improving digestive functions, which is why they are good for people with weak digestive systems. Western dietitians believe that eating sweet foods puts on weight because they contain a large number of calories, whereas Chinese dietitians believe that sweet foods can act on the stomach and spleen, which are in charge of digestive functions.

Determining the flavors of some foods can be difficult, but the Chinese have done it through centuries of experience. The common actions of foods in regard to their flavors are as follows: pungent foods can induce perspiration and promote energy circulation, sweet foods can slow down acute symptoms and neutralize the toxic effects of other foods, sour foods can obstruct movement and are useful in checking diarrhea and excessive perspiration, bitter foods can reduce body heat, dry body fluids, and induce diarrhea, and salty foods can soften hardness.

Some foods have a light flavor and promote urination and may be used as diuretics, such as Job's-tears. Foods are arranged by different flavors, with bitter foods including apricot seed, asparagus, and vinegar, slightly bitter foods including ginseng and pumpkin, and light foods including Jobs-tears and kidney bean. Pungent foods include ginger, green onion, and peppermint, while slightly pungent foods include asparagus and caraway. Salty foods include salt, kelp, and seaweed, while sour foods include apple, apricot, and grape. Extremely sour foods include lemon, pear, and sour plum, and sweet foods include banana, cherry, and chestnut.