The Five Elements and Flavors














Sour enters the Liver and Gallbladder. It is Yin and cooling in nature. Sour astringes to stop sweating, restrains leakages, and stops diarrhea. Sour’s astringent character arrests abnormal discharge of qi and body fluids. Benefits the muscles, tendons, and ligaments when the Liver is holding too tightly.

Sour foods include: lemon, tomatoes, pineapple, apple, strawberry, papaya, pear, oranges, tangerines, peaches, hawthorn fruit, olives, pomegranate, plums, pomelo, mango, grapes, and vinegar.


Bitter enters the Heart and Small Intestine. It is Yin and cooling in nature. Bitter clears heat, drains fire, and dries dampness. It also stimulates appetite and promotes descending via urination and bowel movements.

Bitter foods include: bitter gourd, dandelion, wine, vinegar, tea leaf, turnip, seaweed, bergamot, asparagus, wild cucumber and coffee.

SweetBotanical - Fruits 5 - Peach

Sweet enters the Spleen and Stomach. It isYang and warming in nature. Sweet nourishes and invigorates, harmonizes and relaxes. It slows down acute reactions and moderates the strong nature of other foods and herbs. Sweet detoxifies, stops spasm, and benefits the flesh.

Sweet foods include: honey, dates, shiitake mushroom, taro, sweet potato, potato, pumpkin, carrot, glutinous rice, peas, soybean, rice, wheat, corn, peanut, milk, apple, pears, cherry, chestnut, grapes, longan, carp and abalone.


Pungent (acrid) enters the Lung and Large Intestine. It is Yang and warming in nature. Acrid is dispersing, activating, and moving. It promotes circulation, stimulates sweating, resolves the exterior and stimulates the appetite.

Acrid foods include: fresh ginger, onion, leeks, green onion, Sichuan peppercorn, garlic, coriander, Chinese chives, fennel, spearmint, Chinese radish, chili pepper, sweet peppers, turnips, taro, leaf mustard, cinnamon, tangerine peel, kumquat, mustard seed and wine.


Salty enters the Kidney and Bladder. It is Yin and cooling in nature. Salty softens masses, moistens Yin, and penetrates deeply. Salty also lubricates the intestines to promote bowel movements and softens to expel phlegm from the lungs.

Salty foods include: amaranth, millet, barley, seaweed, kelp, sea clams, sea shrimps, oyster, crabs, pork, razor clam, dried mussel, abalone, duck meat and cuttlefish.


Bland enters the Spleen and Stomach. It is neutral in nature and drains dampness.

Uses of the Five Flavors

The diet should be balanced according to the five flavors.  Sweetness, with its association with Earth, Spleen, and Stomach, should have a central role in the diet.  Sweet foods include most grains, many vegetables, fruits, legumes, and nuts.

Sweet foods should be balanced by eating small amounts of the other four flavors.

When imbalances arise, it is often helpful to simply adjust two flavors, emphasizing one (kyo) and minimizing another (jitsu).