The Importance of the Five Flavors in Ancient Medicine

by Shaula Saldaña June 09, 2020

Why Should your Meals Include the Five Flavors?

When we think of a well-balanced meal, we ideally think of a balance of protein, carbohydrates, and a serving or two of vegetables. However, in holistic medicine, there's a key factor we look for when it comes to a balanced meal, and that is: taste.

In all ancient systems of medicine, the taste of food and herbs is used for a purpose. Flavors are very important in traditional Chinese medicine because each flavor nurtures a specific organ system. Based on the five elements theory, each flavor is correlated with a color, elemental property, season, a type of Yin or Yang energy, and a specific organ. The five flavors are bitter, salty, sweet, sour, and spicy.

It is said that the sour flavor can calm the body, bitterness can help the body cool down, sweetness can tone the body, spiciness can expel the cold from the body, and lastly the salty flavor can help the body alleviate stagnation. By incorporating the 5 flavor profiles we won't only satisfy our taste buds, but also our nutritional and even emotional needs. It is said that a little bit of a particular flavor can strengthen an organ system, while too much can weaken it. We will tell you specifically about the bitter, sweet and spicy flavors.


Bitterness helps remove heat from the body, especially in the heart and small intestine, which store more heat during the early and mid-summer seasons, in addition to stimulating better functioning of both organs. Heat can manifest itself in different ways, including: red face, feeling very emotional, heart palpitations, anxiety, insomnia, and mouth ulcers.

As examples of bitter foods, we have: kale, dandelion leaves, parsley, endive, mustard greens, burdock root, and sesame seeds.


Sweentess is closely related to the spleen, stomach and pancreas, the organs that absorb and distribute sugar and digest food. Sweet food like corn, squash, sweet potatoes and fruits in general are good examples of this flavor. This flavor is at its peak in late summer and is symbolic for the Earth element.


Also known as an astringent, this flavor helps the lungs, which are the first defense barrier of our bodies, expelling pathogens such as wind and cold. The spicy flavor encompasses foods such as ginger, garlic, onion, and black pepper. The ideal season to use this flavor and its healing power is autumn.


Explore our Birdman Blog for more interesting articles on health, ecology, fitness, recipes and even workouts! For instance, how about learning about 7 supplements that can help you cope with stress?

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Shaula Saldaña
Shaula Saldaña


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