The Five Tastes

We eat to live but often we live to eat. This way the taste of food becomes an important part of eating.

In Traditional Chinese medicine the taste of food is categorized into five flavours.

This theory regards that eating certain flavours can help the function of the five major organs and balance your health, even treat disease and recover from illness.

  • Sour flavour can calm the body.   
  • Bitter flavour can clear heat.    
  • Sweet flavour can tonify the body.   
  • Pungent flavour can expel wind and cold from the body.   
  • Salty flavour can help the body to dissolve stagnation.

Each organ is paired with its a flavour and theoretically this can help the organ to function better especially when it is in disorder.     

  • Heart – Bitter    
  • Liver – Sour     
  • Spleen – Sweet    
  • Lung – Spicy  
  • Kidney – Salty

In this theory, each taste nourishes a specific organ or organ system and each taste is also correlated with a season, and a type of warming or cooling energy.

Certain flavours act on one organ more than others. The organs will try to balance themselves through what you eat. You can also identify if an organ is sick because the body will send signals through cravings for a particular taste.

The more you consciously include a variety of the five tastes in preparing your, the more satisfying and nutritionally enhanced your meals will be. Even just a small amount of a a herb or spice can contribute to this balance.

This chart lists some basic foods that fall into each category.

  • BITTER – Kale, collards, parsley, mustard greens, celery, arugula, endive  
  • SALTY – Sea salt, sesame salt, miso, tamari, sea vegetables, pickles    
  • SWEET – Corn, parsnips, cooked onions, yams, cooked grains, squash, cooked cabbage, carrots, , fruit    
  • SOUR – Lemon, lime, pickles, fermented dishes, sauerkraut,    
  • PUNGENT – Ginger, raw onions, garlic, scallions, white radish, red radish, wasabi, spices There might be one flavor that you don’t like but when you mix it with another it will feel more balanced and you might enjoy it better as the flavors can balance each other out.


The 5-phase element theory is a transformation cycle. It describes how the world transforms with nature and its eternal cycles . You plant a seed and then a tree grows and finally you harvest the fruit. Everything is about relationships like Ying and Yang. Each element is distinct in the cycle with a colour and a taste specific to each season. They are distinct but always related and one cannot exist without the other.


To find out more about the foods you can eat for the late summer join my live class here