One of my rules, it that we shouldn’t eat anything that does not taste good. Those of you who have sat through my waxing on about the importance of chewing may have heard some of this before. The taste of our meals is a great pleasure in life. The color, texture, smell, and flavor all combine together to create a truly sensual experience. Close your eyes the next time you bite into a favorite treat. Really give into the sensation.
Some of you may find that your favorite snacks can be a little off putting once you really sit down and pay attention to it. While other food items may blossom into favorites. I have found that when I am paying attention, the horrid taste of food colorings, metals, cleaners, and pesticides become unmistakable. At the tame time the sweetness of carrots, and complexity of an olive transitions into a divine moment in time.
All of this flavor is important. So important that all ancient medicines have quantified them into 5 predominant categories. Sour, Bitter, Sweet, Pungent, and Salty. You see the flavor means something. It is an indication of the nutrients that reside within. If something tastes good to you, your body wants those nutrients. If something tastes bad to you, your body does not want the contents of the food. SImple as that.
The very nature of these 5 Tastes, informs their influence.
- liver and gall bladder
- Earth and Fire
- yin, cooling, contracting, gathering, absorbent
- dries and firm up tissue
- Increase Pitta/kapha, decrease vata
- heart and small intestine
- Air and Space
- yin, cooling, contracting
- energy descending
- dry excess fluids, drain dampness
- Increase Vata, Decrease Pitta/Kapha
- Spleen-Pancreas, Stomach
- Earth and Water
- Yang, tonify, strengthen,
- expands upward, and outward.
- increase tissue and fluids
- increase kapha, decrease vata/pitta
- lungs and large intestine
- Fire and Air
- Yang, expansive, warming,
- moves energy up and out
- stimulate digestion, and move mucus
- increase vata/pitta, decrease kapha
- kidneys and bladder
- wood and fire
- yin, cooling, centering
- moves energy inward, and down.
- softens, detoxifies
- increase pitta/kapha, decrease vata
When we look to harmonize with the winter, we actually want to look towards flavors that cool the surface of the body, and draw our energy inward and down. We are also in general looking to reduce Kapha, and increase Pitta. Early winter most of us will be focusing on a decrease of Vata to offset any imbalance picked up over the autumn. However, be careful not to push the see-saw too hard if you life in a home with dry heat. Vata can then take over your mucus membranes leaving your lips chapped, throat dry, and nose sore.
Let us take a brief look at the different flavors and the winter season.
Classically Bitter and Salty are promoted in the winter because these flavors provide a sinking, and centering quality. Both of these flavors also cool the exterior of the body, and bring our heat deeper and lower. A cooler surface will create a less drastic difference between the skin and the air, resulting in more comfort.
The salty flavor can be emphasized if you have a slight build and require more flesh for insulation. This taste also creates moisture, and can lubricate a body that tends towards dryness. In winter most people can tolerate a little more salty flavor in the diet. NOTE that we are not talking about salt itself, but more the flavor and taste of saltiness, and should be used with caution by the excessive, over weight, lethargic, person with high blood pressure. Examples include barley, soy sauce, miso, pickles, and sea salt. Seaweed is an exception to the rule and can be used by everyone, especially those with the conditions previously listed.
The bitter flavor is very strong and can have an influence by adding it into the diet in even the smallest amounts.Small regular amounts in the winter will nurture the body deeply, and preserve joy in the heart through out the darkest of winters. Some foods with the bitter flavor include watercress, endive, turnips, celery, asparagus, carrot tops, citrus zest, and cabbage. Most medicinal herbs are bitter, and a display of this flavor’s healing potency. Unlike the salty flavor, bitter has an influence on reducing heat in the heart and liver, clears mucoid plaque, and lowers blood pressure.
I also like to include the Pungent Flavor into my diet in the winter. Pungency has a tendency to increase the digestive fire, and stimulate movement. This stimulation when taken in the morning or at lunch can help relieve the tendency towards stagnation. Plus just enough spicy heat added to a dish can warm the body significantly. Taken in larger amount pungent foods will cool the blood by pulling your inner heat up and out. Just enough will warm cold hands, feet, and nose in winter. My favorite winter pungent tastes include an inch or two of ginger added during cooking, or to offset cooling effects of a green smoothie. And a pinch of cayenne topping every dish. Garlic is another favorite winter pungent taste. Add minced garlic to the end of cooking to boos the immune system, and as a preventative anti-viral while the flu makes its rounds at work. r
In summation this winter experiment with the Salty, Bitter, and Pungent flavors. Find your favorites and take back your health.
Pungent = for the Cold and Damp, ^PV
Salty = for the Cold and Dry, ^PK
Bitter = for the stagnant, ^V