Power of Energetics: The 5 Flavors (Part 1)

imagesIn the last blog we went over the 5 properties (focusing on heat and cold) and this week we are going to go over the 5 flavors in Chinese Medicine with respect to their thermal properties (warming vs cooling), remedial actions (drying, moistening, etc.), where their energy is directed and how they are used therapeutically.

This is Part 1 of 2 on the 5 flavors and in this part we will be going over Pungent, Salty, and Sour flavors.


First off, I would like to preface that occasionally food is assigned a certain flavor property that might not correspond to the actual taste. Flavors are assigned to designate and reflect the properties of food, not just taste.  There are also many foods that have more than one flavor associated to it and are generally only used when both flavors are needed.

1442372256336Once again yin and yang are at the forefront of designating properties in energetics.  Two of the flavors—pungent and sweet—are yang, as they tend to be warming and direct energy outward and higher in the body.  The other three flavors—sour, bitter, and salty—are yin, as they are cooling and conduct energy lower and inward. Also, each flavor “enters” (are closely associated with) specific internal organs.

The diet of a healthy person contains flavors that are balanced, with sweet flavor predominating. Sweetness and it’s associated earth element are considered the most central aspect of the body and its nourishment. Meaning that each day the sweet flavor—grains, vegetables, legumes, nuts seeds and fruit—should be accompanied by small amounts of bitter, salty, pungent, and sour foods.  The balance of which flavors are needed for the healthy diet do change, each season has its own influences on what one should eat.  Once the individual is balanced, then work towards seasonal attunement.

Quantity is also important in maintaining balance.  If a flavor is helpful to an organ, too much of the flavor has the opposite and wearing effect. This is most often seen with the sweet flavor, as too much can weaken stomach absorption, mucus accumulation, and blood sugar imbalances.

Pungent (including acrid, spicy, hot,and aromatic flavors)

B9316448002Z.1_20150304155635_000_GMQA3VGAC.1-0Properties:  A yang flavor; expansive, dispersive; the pungent flavor has a warming energy as it stimulates circulation of energy and blood, tending to move energy upwards and outwards to the periphery body. Enters the Lungs and Large Intestines. Corresponds to the Metal Element.

Uses: Stimulates digestion, disperses mucus caused by highly mucus-forming foods such as dairy and meats, and offers protection against mucus conditions such as common cold. The diaphoretic pungents (mint, cayenne, elder flower, scallion, garlic, and chamomile) are used to induce sweating during common colds and other exterior conditions. They are also used to lighten the effects of grains legumes, nits, and seeds, all of which have moderate mucus-forming properties; they also disperse stagnant blood and increase Qi energy. Extremely pungent foods (garlic, mugwort, and cayenne) can be used to destroy and expel parasites.

Unfortunately, in many places of the world pungency is consumed most often in the form of alcoholic beverages, which have some short-term benefits but ultimately cause necrosis, especially in brain cells.

Organ Functions:  The pungent flavor enters and clears the lungs of mucus conditions (do not use warming pungents for this if there are any heat conditions in the body). It improves digestive activity, which is ruled by the spleen-pancreas, and expose gas from the intestines. It moistens the kidneys which affects the fluids of the body. Stimulates blood circulation and is cardiotonic. It also helps clear obstructions and improve sluggish liver function.

Seasonal Attunement: Pungent flavor (along with full sweet flavor) attunes to spring. Pungent flavors that are also hot provide the interior environment of, and attune the body to, summer—cayenne, black pepper, hot green and green peppers, and fresh ginger.

Individuals Benefited: This who are sluggish, dull, lethargic, or excessively heavy benefit from pungent foods (as well as bitter).  Those inclined to dampness or mucus conditions of the lungs or colon (Metal Element) can use pungent foods for prevention and treatment.  A person with cold signs improve with the use of warming pungents.  Some pungent foods can be beneficial for dry, thin individuals or those who tend towards wind conditions of nervous, restless activity. However, not all pungent foods are appropriate for the dry person.

Cooking: The pungency of food diminishes with cooking.  For full benefits eat pungent food raw or pickled. If cooking is needed mild steaming will preserve some of the pungency.

Cautions: Some pungent foods worsen the condition of dry, windy, nervous or thin person (sage, raw onion, and all hot peppers, including cayenne). If suffering from Qi diseases—deficient Qi, including weakness, or stagnant Qi involved in obstructions and constrictions— avoid pungent foods.  Also, avoid warming pungent food when heat signs are present. Those overweight from overeating should choose cooling pungent foods.


seaweed-salad-in-bowl-seaweed-food-trend-food-Good-Housekeeping-UK__largeProperties: A yin flavor; cooling effect; tends to move energy downward and inward; has centering, earthy qualities; moistens dryness;softens hardened lumps and stiffness; improves digestion; detoxifies the body; and can purge the bowels and promote emesis.  Enters the Kidneys and Bladder. Corresponds to the Water Element.

Uses: May be increased in the diet to soften lumps (ex. hardened lymph nodes, cataracts, and other knotting of the muscles and glands). Used internally for constipation, abdominal sweeping and pain, and externally for impure blood conditions with heat signs, such as skin discharges, sore throat (hot water gargle), and pyorrhea (brush teeth with fine salt). Salt counteracts toxins in the body, increases appetite, and is unfortunately overused, especially in the form of table salt.

Organ Function: Salty foods enter the kidneys and is considered a proper flavor for the spleen-pancreas, where it strengthens digestive functions.  It also fortifies a weak heart-mind (one and the same in Chinese thought) and improves mental concentration.

Seasonal Attunement: The descending, cooling nature of salty foods attunes to the colder seasons and climates, and such be used progressively more throughout fall and winter.

Individual Benefited: Salty foods moisten and calm the thin, dry, nervous person.

Cautions: Salty foods should be restricted by those with damp, overweight, lethargic, or edemic conditions, and those with high blood pressure. Seaweed, while salty, is an exception to this rule as its iodine and trace minerals speed up metabolism. Salt is a yin food, but excessive salt has the opposite effect and should be used sparingly by very yang people.


Lemons and LimesProperties: A yin flavor; cooling quality; causes contraction and has a gathering, absorbent, astringent effect, to prevent or reverse abnormal leakage of fluids and energy, and to dry and firm up tissues. Enters the Liver and Gallbladder.  Corresponds to the Wood Element.

Uses: Used in the treatment of urinary dripping, excessive perspiration, hemorrhage, diarrhea, and weak, sagging tissues including flaccid skin, hemorrhoids, and uterine prolapse.  Sour foods derives from a variety of acids, some of the most common being citric acid, tannic acid, and ascorbic acid.  The sour flavoring found in black and green teas and blackberry leaves can be classified as astringent.

Organ Function: Sour flavor is most active in the liver, where it counteracts the effects of rich, greasy food, functioning as a solvent to breakdown fats and protein.  Sourness helps digestion to dissolve minerals for improved absorption and can help strengthen weakened lungs.  Sour foods are the proper food for the heart-mind and plays a vital role in organizing scattered mental patterns.

Seasonal Attunement: Sour foods draw one into harmony with the fall, the time of gathering and the beginning of the period of contraction (the onset of cooler weather).

Individual Benefited: Sour foods collect and hold together the dispersed, unpredictably changing personality.

Cautions: Those with dampness, heaviness in mind or body, constipation, and constrictions should use the sour flavor sparingly.



Flavors and Direction

Affected organ



Bitter (yin) Cooling, direct energy inward and to lower body (downward) Heart/Small Intestine Inflammations, infections, moist and damp conditions, high cholesterol, candida overgrowth, parasites, abscesses and overeating.  Dry, cold, nervous, weak persons should not overeat bitter foods Alfalfa, romaine lettuce, rye.Bitter+pungent: citrus peel, radish leaf, scallion, turnip, white pepper.Bitter+sweet: amaranth, asparagus, celery, lettuce, papaya, quinoa.Bitter+sour: vinegar
Pungent (yang) Warming, direct energy outward and to upper body, expansive, dispersive Lung/Large Intestine Stimulates circulation, cardioprotective, clear obstructions and improve liver function, moistens the kidneys affecting fluids in the entire body, improve digestion, and reduce mucous conditions, expels parasites Warming: spearmint, rosemary, scallion, garlic, onion, cinnamon, cloves, ginger, black pepper, all peppers, cayenne, mustard greens, fennel, anise, dill, nutmeg, basil and horseradishCooling:  peppermint, marjoram, white pepper and radishNeutral: taro, turnip and kohlrabi
Salty (yin) Cooling, direct energy inward and to lower body (downward) KidneysBladder Soften lumps (such as hardened lymph nodes), cataracts, knotted muscles and glands.  Constipation, abdominal swelling and pain, sore throat, pyorrhea.  Increases appetite Salt, seaweed (kelp, kombu, bladderwrack, dusle), barley, millet, soy sauce, miso, pickles, umeboshi and gomasio
Sour (yin)Cooling, causes contraction and has an absorbent, astringent effect LiverGallbladder Incontinence, excessive perspiration, hemorrhage, diarrhea, hemorrhoids, prevent or reverse abnormal leakage of fluids, dries and firms up tissue Hawthorne berry, lemon, lime, pickles, rose hip, sauerkraut, crab apple, sour plum.Sour+bitter: vinegar.Sour+pungent: leek.Sour+sweet: aduki bean, apple, blackberry, cheese, grape, mango, olive, raspberry, sourdough bread, tangerine, tomato, yogurt
Sweet (yang)Warming, direct energy outward and to upper body (upward) Spleen-pancreas Stomach Slows acute reactions and neutralizes toxic effects of other foods, also lubricates and nourishes the body. Those to benefit most are dry, cold, nervous, thin, weak , scattered or aggressive persons. Less needed for those persons with damp or mucous signs. Fruits: apple, apricot, cherry, date, fig, grape, grapefruit, olive, papaya, peach, pear, strawberry, tomatoVegetables: beet, mushroom, cabbage, carrot, celery, chard, cucumber, eggplant, lettuce, potato, spearmint, squash, sweet potato, yamNuts/seeds: almond, chestnut, coconut, sesame seed, sunflower seed, walnutSweeteners: amasake, barley malt, honey, molasses, rice syrup, whole sugar (unrefined)


For Part 2 Click Here!

While waiting for the next installment, please take a look at the foods in our other blogs to see how to choose the most nutritious groceries, how to store them to retain freshness, the nutritional benefits, and of course—the energetics.