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Balancing 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 vegetables. 

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. 

The underlying 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.

sweet salty sour bitter pungent
cabbage,
  cooked
carrots
corn, fresh
fruit
grains,
  cooked
onions,
  cooked
parsnips
winter
  squash
yams,
  garnet
fermented
  dishes
gomashio
miso
pickles
salt
sea
 vegetables
shoyu
fermented
  dishes
lemon
lime
pickles
sauerkraut
umeboshi
  plum
arugula
celery collards endive escarole grain cereal 
  beverages kale mustard
  greens parsley turnip 
  greens
daikon
  radish,
  raw 
garlic 
ginger onions, raw red radish scallions turnip wasabi




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