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Oriental Medicine in the Kitchen: The Five Tastes and Temperatures

Oriental medicine uses food as therapy for better health
Oriental medicine uses food as therapy for better health

In Oriental Medicine, a well balanced diet is comprised of roughly 20% of each of the following five tastes (or flavors):  sweet, sour, bitter, spicy and salty. The typical American diet tends to be improperly weighted with too many salty and sweet tastes. You might ask: why does this matter? Oriental medicine is a health system based on achieving balance, moderation and harmony in all aspects of a person’s well-being. Culturally, we tend to underestimate and de-emphasize our food choices as a vital component in preservation of health. Oriental medicine wholeheartedly integrates food and dietary principles to restore and maintain health.

Oriental Medicine categorizes both herbs and foods based on their inherent characteristics. Two of the most common criteria in selecting an herb or food to remedy a particular condition are its thermal and sensory properties. The Oriental medicine classification of foods by temperature is evaluated in both the thermal nature of the food itself and the way it is prepared.  This measure – expressed as hot, warm, neutral, cool and cold – is an energetic temperature that indicates the effect a particular food has on the body when ingested. This translates into how we use foods as a thermal vehicle either to warm or cool various parts of the body, as needed, to aid in the reversal of a condition.

The Five Tastes is another level of food categorization in Oriental Medicine.  Similar to food temperatures, the five tastes refer to the quality of energy a food or herb emits in the action of ingestion and in process of digestion.  In Oriental medicine, each flavor has an affinity and energetic correspondence mapped to specific internal organs. This creates another layer of precision and personalization in the selection of foods and herbs to treat an individual with specific complaints.

A practitioner of Oriental Medicine will assess your health, symptoms and dietary habits in order to form a complete diagnosis. Often, dietary recommendations are made to supplement and support your treatment plan.

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