By Danisha Bogue, L.Ac. - September 6, 2021
Categories: Food, General

In my last blog, we started discussing the energetics of food. We discussed the difference between yin vs yang, and moist vs. dry in foods. Traditional Chinese Medicine actually takes it a bit further, and before we can get into herbalism we need to get and handle on the 5 flavors.

The 5 flavors are bitter, sweet, spicy (or pungent), salty, and sour. In Traditional Chinese Medicine, these 5 flavors correspond not only to the actual taste, but to the properties of those flavors and how they interact with the body. These 5 flavors also correspond with yin and yang (balance is everything!), as well as the 5 elements of TCM (Fire, Earth, Metal, Water, and Wood). Don’t worry, it’ll make more sense as we go, so let’s get into it!


Energy: Yin, cooling

Organs: Heart & small intestine

Element: Fire

Great for: slow, overweight, lethargic, moist, aggressive, overheated people.

Bitter is a yin flavor. It’s associated with the heart and small intestine and has a cooling and drying effect. These foods tend to be good at clearing heat from the body, so their often used to treat inflammation and fever, but the drying effect is also great for the upper respiratory tract. Because of the downward energy associated with bitter foods, some of them will also stimulate bowel movement.

Bitter foods: Alfalfa, romaine lettuce, rye, dandelion, parsley, collard greens, mustard greens, arugula, kale, celery, corn, burdock root, sesame seeds, coffee


Energy: Yang, warming

Organs: Spleen, pancreas, stomach

Element: Earth

Great for: slow, overweight, lethargic, moist, aggressive, overheated people.

Sweet is a warming yang flavor. It works to harmonize all the other flavors. It is both energizing and relaxing for the body, nerves and brain. It can soothe more aggressive emotions such as anger and impatience. It’s also moisturizing and can benefit a tendency toward dryness.

Sweet foods: Apple, apricot, cherry, date, fig, grape, grapefruit, olive, papaya, peach, pear, strawberry, tomato, beet, mushroom, cabbage, carrot, celery, chard, cucumber, eggplant, lettuce, potato, spearmint, squash, sweet potato, almond, chestnut, coconut, sesame seed, sunflower seed, walnut, honey, whole grains, rice, beans


Energy: Yang, warming

Organs: Lungs, large intestine

Element: Metal

Great for: Sluggish, dull, lethargic, excessively heavy people, and those inclined towards dampness or mucus conditions of the lungs.

Pungent is a stimulating flavor. It promotes circulation and stimulates digestion. It also helps to breakup mucus, and can be great at inducing sweating during colds, dispersing stagnant blood and increasing qi energy.

Pungent foods: Scallions, ginger, garlic, radish, turnip, cayenne, fennel, cinnamon, spearmint, rosemary, onion, nutmeg, basil, horseradish, peppermint


Energy: Yin, cooling

Organs: Kidneys, bladder

Element: Water

Great for: Thin, dry, nervous people

Salty foods are centering and can help to detoxify the body. The moistening quality can help to soften lumps (such as hardened lymph nodes, cataracts, knotted muscles, etc.). Internally, salty foods are helpful with constipation and abdominal pain. It can help to balance the moisture levels in the body.  Externally, salty foods help with skin issues and sore throat. Salt counteracts toxins in the body and can increase appetite.

Salty foods: Salt, seaweed, barley, millet, soy sauce, miso, pickles,


Energy: Yin, cooling

Organs: Liver, gallbladder

Element: Wood

Great for: dispersed, unpredictably changing personalities.

Sour foods work to contract and absorb. They are astringent, and thus help to dry and firm up tissues and conditions like excessive perspiration, hemorrhage, diarrhea, hemorrhoids, and uterine prolapse. Sour foods work to counteract the effects of rich, greasy food. They help the body digest and absorb minerals, and help with concentration and focus.

Sour foods:  Lemon, lime, pickles, rose hip, sauerkraut, vinegar, apple, blackberry, cheese, grape, mango, olive, raspberry, sourdough bread, tangerine, tomato, yogurt, black and green tea

I know that was a lot of information, but it was meant to show you how there are many different levers we can pull that affect your bodily systems, and diet is an important part of that. Now, this is the simplified version. There are a lot of factors both in the energetics and flavors of the foods, as well as the energetics of the illness or issue that you’re facing. If you’d like more information, please reach out to me and we’ll discuss how you can tweak your diet to support your wellness journey.

Be well.