There are 5 flavours in Traditional Chinese Medicine sweet, sour, pungent, bitter, and salty. Each flavour has a different effect or action on the body.
SWEET is associated with the late summer season, sweet food is associated with the organs of sugar absorption and distribution - pancreas, spleen and stomach. Its nourishing effect is centering and relaxing. The sweet taste refers to natural whole foods, not refined sweet from white sugar.
Sweet foods make up the largest percentage of our meals. These foods include whole grains and vegetables, especially, cabbages, sweet potatoes, carrots, onions, pumpkin and parsnips.
SOUR is associated with spring, it’s action is cooling, contracting and upward-moving. Sour foods should be consumed in small amounts, such as in condiments or juices to flavour a sauce or soup. Too much sour can cause overstimulation of the liver, iwhich may interfere with digestion and appetite and lead to accumulation of dampness, blocking the normal flow of energy by creating stagnation.
PUNGENT is associated with autumn, the pungent taste gives off a hot, dispersing energy and is said to be beneficial to the lungs and large intestine. However, an excess of these foods can irritate the intestines. Pungent foods are known to stimulate blood circulation and, according to TCM, have a natural ability to help break down accumulation in the body. In most culinary cuisines, they are commonly combined with animal protein and with foods high in fat. These foods include scallions, radish, ginger, peppers, wasabi (dry mustard) and horseradish.
BITTER is associated with the early and mid-summer season, bitter foods are thought to stimulate the heart and small intestine. These foods include dandelion, parsley leaves, mustard greens, collard greens, rhubarb, burdock root, sesame seeds and chicory. A small amount of these foods go a long way, too much can be overstimulating.
SALTY is associated with the winter season, salty moves inward to the Kidneys and helps us to store strength. In TCM the Kidneys are considered the ‘root of life’ because they store our Jing (essence) and are the foundation of Yin and Yang in the body. Salty foods include sea vegetables, fermented foods, miso, soy sauce, barley and parsley.