Chinese cooking(1): Five elements

Updated: 2007-05-11 15:28

"The Five Elemental Energies of Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal, and Water encompass all the myriad phenomena of nature. It is a paradigm that applies equally to humans." -- The Yellow Emperor's Classic of Internal Medicine (2nd century BC).

In traditional Chinese philosophy, the Five Elements theory can be applied to everything, from rivers to sounds to body organs, and is used to describe interactions and relationships between phenomena in the universe.

This theory is actually fundamental to the Chinese health care system and the foundation of traditional Chinese medicine, which holds that bitter flavor relates to the heart, sour to the liver, sweet to the spleen, spicy to the lungs and salty to the kidneys. So sour wood-energy foods are prescribed for weak livers but not advised for overactive livers. Spicy metal-energy foods stimulate the lungs and large intestine, and salty water-energy foods have a diuretic effect on the kidneys and bladder.

Interested in how the five elements theory function in Chinese cooking? Find more information on page 26-27 at