Module 9: Ancient Chinese Herbal Medicine, Diet Therapy, Spices and Cookware

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Han developed the concept of using food as medicine. China's oldest preserved medical books are Han date, and they have plenty to tell regarding nutrition and diet therapy, which is often significant in starving China.

Asians perceive food as having either "hot" or "cold" properties, fulfilling both medicinal and nutritional purposes: three meals a day, each with tea and flatbread (nan or naan). The main meal is typically at night.

Herbal soups are standard and made with peony or rheumannia root, angelica, star anise, wolfberry, cassia bark or prickly ash/fagara. They and other plants present as tonics, concentrates and pastes.

A significant feature of Cantonese cuisine is medicinal food. Dozens of foods are consumed primarily for perceived healthy qualities: snake for winter warmth, watercress for cooling, wild ducks or pork liver for strength and energy due to its strong iron content, certain herbs for cleansing the system, and chicken soup for just about everything else. In Chinese medicine, food is heating, cooling, or neutral. Heating foods are high-calorie, fatty, reddish, or spicy and make the body heat up and produce rashes and sores. Cooling foods are low-calorie, watery, sour, or cool-coloured and make the body colder and cause unnecessary energy and power loss. Neutral food is balanced, such as rice, noodles and whitefish. Chinese wolfthorn fruits and leaves are the strongest traditional foods regarding vitamins and minerals and are used as dietary supplements. All foods have health value in Chinese medicine. Food and medicine are on a gradient scale together. Many foods, including wolfthorn, are consumed for their therapeutic benefit. White fungus, dried scallops, are borderline products on the gradient scale. Moreover, medicinal herbs like ginseng could be considered foods. Food has always been the first course of action when a person feels unwell. After giving birth, women consume foods that are considered reinforcing and warming, and modern research reveals that these foods tend to be rich in iron, calcium, and other minerals, vitamins, or readily digestible protein. These foods restore health and promote breastmilk production.

Pangolin is a superficially anteater-like beast with fur matted into rough scales. It is powerfully nourishing and consumed as medicine rather than as a delicacy. A Gueizhou recipe includes frying it with almost any strong-flavoured component in the Chinese arsenal, implying that the animal's taste must be overpowered. The pangolin seems to have no verifiable healing properties and may be considered therapeutic because of its strange characteristics, implying a powerful qi - spirit or energy.

Another system originated in ancient China and centred on The Yellow Emperor's Internal Medicine Classic, written by one of the so-called celestial emperors, Huang-ti. Possibly written during the Han dynasty, it is relatively contemporary with the other systems. In this system, the first essential principle is qi, which translates to energy, life, or spirit. Qi promotes life and combats malignant outside forces. It also flows across the cosmos, binding the human microcosm with the macrocosm—health results when there is unity between the two, as do prosperity, security, and healthy crops. Two fundamental universal powers, yin and yang, work together in the Chinese structure's core guiding theory. Yin is female: dark, cold, soft, empty, night. Yang is male: bright, light, warm, firm, full-day.

Universal and physical equilibrium relies on combining these two powers, as do the stages or cycles of changes that occur within nature. The building blocks of nature are five kinds: earth, fire, wood, metal, and water. As nature shifts, these forces govern shifting processes, such as generation. Water produces trees; burnt wood creates fire, fire creates ash. Earth is the metal source, and when heated enough, metals move like water. All physiological roles may be defined by such transformations, like breaking down and processing foods. Unique foods or medications support particular transformations, create positive qi, or encourage qi through the body, as does acupuncture. Much like the other systems, this is a natural medicine that considers exercise, air quality, sleep cycles, sexual behaviour, and nutrition to maintain the right balance between the yin and yang energies, keep the qi moving, and maintain physiological transformations.

The notion that foods are heating, cooling, drying, or moistening seems to have been brought from India about the 6th C.E. In the Modern West, the definition of diet is far more restricted than in ancient structures since it only considers food consumption, calories, and vitamins. Little attention is granted to living holistically under external forces. Diet is not carefully regulated according to a person's particular complexion or behaviours. The energy expenditure rate describes caloric needs, and all bodies are believed to require the same nutrients of a given variety to allow for genetic and other sources of variants. This thought process comes from perceiving the body as a food-fuelled motor, an idea that emerged in the nineteenth century after the chemist Antoine-Laurent Lavoisier and later Justus von Liebig's study. This transition was complete only with vitamin discovery in the early twentieth century. The diet definition was even more narrowly described as food consumption or as a rigid weight loss programme.

The Chinese tradition of healing is based on a central idea—balance—and three primary forms of delineating the forces involved in this balance: yin and yang, the theory of opposites that are interconnected and mutually dependent; the Taoist concept of the five elements or five evolutions; and the concept of qi, or "intrinsic energy." Traditional Chinese knowledge of digestive anatomy is relatively precise. However, physiological principles focused on these theories vary considerably from their Western equivalents. Both body parts and physical acts performed by the body have either yin or yang characteristics. Food is yin, whereas eating is yang. For example, overeating induces a surplus of yin that can only be offset by compensating for the lack of yang by exercising. Foods themselves also have yin or yang attributes, but a well-balanced meal is one that chooses foods to match their yin and yang qualities. Digestive organs are either yin, like the liver, or yang, like the stomach, small and large intestine, and gallbladder. Emotions influence both organs' balance of operation, where rage influences both the liver, the yin-related organ, and the yang-related gallbladder, causing both to malfunction. The Taoist five elements of wood, fire, earth, metal, and water may be used to identify digestive system organs, tastes and smells, body orifices and tissues, emotions, and natural phenomena like the seasons. The order of the elements often gives directionality in the sense that the elements obey each other in the order of their respective seasons, and the role of one organ relies on the proper function of the previous organ within the chain.

Furthermore, the five Taoist elements operate in conjunction with the yin/yang system, such as the liver, a yin organ, and the gallbladder, a yang organ, which both correspond to wood, and anger, which is connected with both organs, therefore also corresponds to wood. As the body's "intrinsic energy," qi is essential to processes and transitions that transfer food to the proper location within the body, converting it into nourishment. Each food offers a qi quota or qi activation, or qi stagnation if poisonous foods are consumed. In fitness, food will help qi pass down through the "triple burner," consisting of three torso divisions:

  • the upper burner, devoted to respiration, containing the lungs and the heart

  • the middle burner, devoted to digestion, containing the spleen, the thyroid, the liver, and the gallbladder

  • the lower burner, devoted to expulsion, containing the kidneys, the bladder, and the lower intestine

For example, radishes are thought to help qi travel downward, facilitating digestion and wellbeing. Thus, these three interlocking structures help coordinate and guide eating activity by offering a system to perceived features of each food eaten and each health condition observed.

The Chinese approach to health rests in its "food and medicine sharing the same roots" ideology. The firm conviction that food has medicinal properties and beneficial benefits have contributed to adopting many edible plants and herbs. Moreover, with the advantages of disease control and health protection, Chinese homes have become daily dishes. At the same time, cooking pursues refinement. The amount of food and ingredient blending is critical, and it is advised to blend meats and non-meats. If producing recipes or soups, foods with good nutritional content are mixed to reach a healthy nutritional intake target.

Furthermore, dining is advised until the stomach is around 70 to 80 percent full since this tradition is passed down to generations as a secret to long life. The Chinese were granted the ability to learn about several edible plants unfamiliar to the West, and they found that plants can receive many of the vital nutrients of the human body.

In traditional Chinese medicine, duck is a luxury tonic food. It is believed that routinely eating duck improves health.

Laba porridge is now much more refined and has a better nutritional value. Top-quality laba porridge has therapeutic results ranging from benefitting the spleen, stimulating appetite, replenishing qi (chi), cleansing the blood, battling cold weather, and more. It is the usual winter tonic fare.

The selection of ingredients for any dish considers health benefits above all else. Turnip can relieve excess body heat and, therefore, is a fitting complement to lamb dishes, which cause high body heat. Spinach and tomatoes contain acidic qualities, so being coupled with calcium-rich bean curd would cause calcium salt (calcium hypochlorite), being unfavourable for digestion and absorption.

The backbone of Chinese food culture is diet therapy. The tradition of combining food and herbal medicine has existed since ancient times. The God of agriculture in Chinese legends, Shennong, taught people how to grow crops and mastered medicine by tasting hundreds of different herbs. Although it is a legend, it reflects a basic traditional Chinese philosophy, that "food and medicine share the same roots." So people's dietary intake and disease prevention and treatment have a very close relationship. Since days have gone by, Chinese people have paid close attention to health preservation and prolonging life. Huangdi Neijing's book first introduced a comprehensive view of dietary nutrition. Nutrition can be whole and balanced when the diet is comprehensive. The "five tastes" are included in the diet so that no particular taste is excessive enough to harm the internal organs. China's food culture's essence is to rely on daily diets to improve physical health and fend off illness. Compared to medicine, food is more gentle on the body. Each type of food contains a specific "fine extract" that can affect the body. When expelling excess heat from the body, the medicinal belief is that pears work for the lungs, bananas help the rectum, while kiwis work for the bladder. Different tastes have different influences on the body, and sourness usually goes to the liver, and pungency goes to the lungs, bitterness to the heart, saltiness to the kidneys, and sweetness to the spleen. Different elements are absorbed by different internal organs and have different effects on the body. Relying on food's nutritional content to influence the body is a feature of Chinese food culture, where hot and spicy food moves the flow of qi (chi) through the five primary organs.

With the peak of humidity and heat in the summer, drinks like lily bulb soup, chilled tea, mung bean soup, sweet-sour plum juice, and more can protect against heat fever. In autumn, when the air is dry, it is beneficial to eat food that moisturizes the lungs, like pear, persimmon, olive, turnip and tremella. Turnip is often eaten daily because it is cheap and has health-enhancing effects. Turnip with braised ribs or simmered lamb have tonic effects, and Chinese chestnuts, Chinese yams and river snails are also essential medicinal products for the fall season. The best time for tonics is winter. Upon entering the winter season, the Chinese like chicken, pig legs, beef, lamb, longan, walnut, sesame and other high-fat and high-calorie foods.

Every generation has different dietary therapies. Middle-aged people experience the body slowly shifting from energized to weak and need high-energy foods with protective health qualities and age-defying properties to slow down the ageing process. With a slower metabolism, middle-aged people should eat less meat from four-legged animals, such as beef and pork. Instead, they should eat "two-legged" animals, such as chickens or "one-legged" fungi or "no leg." fish. Medicine falls short compared to food in terms of providing nutrients to the body, and food works equally as well as medicine to treat illnesses. Every family knows that common fruits and vegetables can prevent and cure diseases. They believe that if a family member falls ill with a cold, to cure it: cut a few slices of ginger and add a few scallions, then add brown sugar to boil in water and drink while it is hot, then sleep under thick blankets to cause sweating, and the cold will be gone. Hen stewed in clear soup, brown sugar millet, and stir-fried sesame seeds are an excellent option for women after work that helps them quickly restore physical energy and function, relieving excess heat and revitalizing the body and mind.

Therapeutic diets combine traditional Chinese medicine with conventional food and cooking. Variety and dosage are strictly controlled. Using food instead of medicine is different since therapeutic diets make medicinal herbs taste delicious and are easier to consume. The combination of medicine and food forms a new kind of food by taking medicinal properties and the taste of great food, bringing Chinese food therapy to a new height. Popular medicinal diets include pastry, porridge stews and dishes like Duck with Chinese caterpillar Fungus, Whole Chicken Stewed with Ginkgo Nut, Stir-fried River Snails with Rice Wine, Pig Stomach with Lotus Seeds, lily bulb porridge, edible fungus cake, Chinese yam and more. Today, both large and small, Chinese cities have specialty medicinal diet restaurants, and business is prosperous. Not only did Chinese medicinal diets radiate domestically, but they are also being introduced overseas. It has been widely accepted and imitated by foreigners and is becoming part of their local food culture.

Wine made from slender acanthopanax bark, chrysanthemum wine, ginseng wine, oolong tea, ginger juice candy, sour plum and other traditional Chinese tonic drinks and foods have a large market in foreign countries. The famous western drink gin's main ingredient is a Chinese medicinal herb—the seed of Oriental arborvitae, making people calm and relaxed. Chinese Food Therapy and Medicinal Diet Practice are gaining more and more Western followers in a unified desire for health and longevity. Although Western medicine can cure many pains and illnesses, its chemical compounds' and properties can have strong side effects and have no nutritional value. However, Chinese medicinal diets revolve around natural plants and herbs, with long-term use being an accurate and safer dosage, and it can nurture the body and preserve health by strengthening the body's immune system, achieving the goal of slowing the ageing process and prolonging life. Taste usually represents the uniqueness of different regional cuisines. However, from a health preservation point of view, diets heavy on saltiness, sweetness, sourness or pungency are physically unfavourable for the body. Consuming excess salt damages the heart, spleen, and kidneys. Too much sour and pungent taste can cause ulcers. Achieving good health requires a harmonious balance of "five tastes" and light seasoning.

Since ancient times, the Chinese have eaten porridge, or congee, to prolong their lives by having a bowl of thin porridge on an empty stomach every morning. Porridge is said to prevent disease and maintain health, and carrot porridge can prevent high blood pressure. To increase essential vitamins to improve kidney function, which are organs with the nature of Yin, those who consume excessive meat and seafood should eat vegetable or wild herb porridge. Having less meat and seafood but more vegetarian dishes and porridge has always been a good option for people looking for health benefits. Vegetarian dishes with vegetables, bean-based ingredients and fungi are easy to digest and nutrient-rich. However, eating only non-meats is also not appropriate, as it is not sufficiently balanced and well rounded in nutrition for the essential nutrients the body needs—for example, calcium is rarely found in vegetarian foods. When using the five tastes in harmony and with a balanced diet, a reasonable dietary structure can be made, but it is increasingly dependent on dietary and nutritional health studies.

Having pig feet can strengthen the body and slow down the ageing process, keeping the skin smooth. People believe that having a fish head can help slow down the ageing process as well. Ginseng is an excellent tonic, and depending on the season, there are significant differences when taking tonic foods. Foods made from sticky-rice have a good texture but are not easy to digest, so most people try not to have too much. Bean curd is easy to make, rich in nutrition, and can be made into a wide range of dishes. People who believe that "food and medicine share the same roots" prefer tonic foods.

Chinese philosophy emphasizes "nature and the people as one." This kind of cultural mindset is expressed in the harmonious co-existence and development of diet and food. As a result, there are several limitations in the Chinese daily diet. These involve a proper variety of foods, seasonal or daily taboos, and "catalysts" or foods that are not appropriate when ill. Prohibitions have been passed down over centuries and discovered by experience, while others have been learned from modern empirical results. There is a strong emphasis on mixing and combining foods. For example, dumplings go with vinegar, scallions wrapped with pancakes need dips, deep-fried twisted dough sticks must go with soya milk, and noodles cannot be enjoyed without toppings and dressings. A table full of home-cooked meals must have meat and non-meat dishes, matching the Yin and Yang. For example, the mixture of main foods and supplementary foods, such as rice and beef, where beef tastes sweet and cold and rice is slightly bitter and wet. The two items are offset when sweetness is paired with bitterness to complement each other.

On the contrary, some foods do not pair well, and when combined, they can cause health problems. Examples include plums and white honey, as they attack internal organs, soya and pork, mustard and rabbit meat and more. Combinations like these can leave a diner unsatisfied, or instead, nauseous or in pain since they overate and ingested too many kinds of foods or contradict each others' properties. Food taboos among the general Chinese public have a lot to do with seasonal characteristics, meaning that the diet needs to change when the seasons change. The general population assumes that eating leek in winter and spring will 'warm the back and the knee.' However, in summer, leek leaves people 'dizzy with lousy vision.' People in Jiangxi Province enjoy spicy fresh peppers in the summer. Dry, hot peppers can also be used for the winter. However, there are no hot peppers in the typical diet for autumn. Other such taboos include:

- Breakfast cannot be dry food or eggs only.

- There should be no smoking during meals or watching T.V.

- When eating, one should not be angry.

- Do not drink too much water before and after meals.

- Have cold drinks, strong tea and fruit.

- After working the vocal cords, cold drinks harm one's throat.

- Do not get a full stomach when going on holidays and riding on motor vehicles.

- Too much sugar is unsuitable after physical exercise.

For some individuals, these everyday eating taboos are not worthy of consideration. However, as soon as one experiences discomfort or special occasions like pregnancy, these taboos must not be taken lightly. As the famous saying goes, "thirty percent treatment, seventy percent prevention." If one does not recognize "catalysts" or avoid "tabooed foods," one can experience adverse reactions in the body or even severe illness. The so-called "catalysts" are foods that may stimulate disease. The selection is broad, including chicken heads, pig heads, seafood, fish, beef and lamb, and various spices and seasonings. Depending on the body's state and the type of disease endured, the "tabooed foods" vary accordingly. For example:

- If one is frail and cold in all four limbs, one must have no watermelon, banana or pear, which has a chilling effect.

- When one has excessive body heat and hunger, amnesia or anxiety, it is best not to consume ginger, black pepper, rice wine and more.

When asthma attacks, eggs, milk, fish and seafood with high proteins become 'tabooed foods.'

- If one has a cough, he should stay away from cold beverages and cold foods, greasy and thick-boiled foods or pungent foods.

- When taking tonics, tea and turnip should be avoided, or the tonic effect will be known.

As for scallions and garlic, they are popular spices used in household cooking, and even northerners like to eat raw garlic. However, they are also considered "catalysts." It is beneficial for illness, but those who suffer from extreme internal heat should refrain from eating them. Especially for the elderly, having too much scallion or garlic causes dry eyes and hinders vision. The key concept to be followed is that there is no overall nutrition for some foods during pregnancy. However, due to the prenatal environment needed for the child's development, a pregnant woman's body is usually high in Yang's qi (chi). So spicy, pungent, greasy, and hard-to-digest foods should be avoided. After labour, foods such as crucian carp, pigs feet and eggs are frequently introduced into a woman's diet to induce milk production. However, vegetarian diets are recommended in the few days immediately after birth.

Meats, mainly carp and crucian carp, are not favourable to the healing of cuts. However, the tortoise can warm the body, fill the qi (chi), and is perfect for healing wounds. Of course, certain Chinese abstentions in food are only customary among ordinary people and have no clear scientific basis. Some places in China, for example, assume that a pregnant woman cannot eat rabbit meat or the child will be born with three pieces to the lip like a bunny. She cannot eat the donkey's meat; otherwise, the child's face will be as long as a donkey's. Tortoise meat, eel and loach are often believed to give the baby a little head, face and eyes. However, looking at these views with practical experience, it is clear that these food taboos are nonsense, but it carries the peoples' beautiful hopes for the next generation and can also be seen as a reflection of Chinese folk culture.

The study of diet is an extensive area of expertise since diet and culture have a strong connection. The preferred food of a specific culture may be frowned upon in another culture. Diet taboos in the diet can also also be used as a culture of abstention in the food culture. However, apart from daily life reflections, abstention culture is often closely intertwined with religious beliefs, nationalities or customs and practices of a particular country or region.

Chinese secular food taboos are generally reflected in Buddhism, Daoism, and Islam. For example, Chinese Buddhists are forbidden to eat meat because eating meat is considered the same as killing, a defile of religious discipline. However, in India, Sri Lanka and other countries, and in the Mongolian, Tibetan and Dai minority nationalities of China, the monks do not follow such a religious order. It is more in line with ancient Chinese courtesies during sacrificial ceremonies when people bathed and changed clothes but did not eat meat or drink wine to demonstrate their devout faith. What prohibits Buddhist monks from consuming meat or drinking alcohol is due more to the beliefs and customs of Han Chinese culture. The Daoist religion, which is native to China, also refrains from consuming meat and drinking alcohol. However, unlike the Buddhist approach, Daoists concentrate on maintaining the inner organs and cultivating the soul. They do not promote complicated taste in foods because immortals are expected to become who they are because they do not consume earthly foods. Islam prohibits its followers from consuming animals that died naturally or from having blood or pork, as well as animals that died as a result of strangulation, fall, or the remains of other carnivores. Muslims consider the types of livestock, as described above, to be "unclean." However, if the product, other than pork, has been cared for, it is suitable for consumption. Aside from these species, domesticated animals, such as horses, mules and donkeys, plus small-scale fish, such as crabs and eels, are all on the prohibited foods list.

Folk beliefs, local customs and some occupations or industries have also led to dietary abstentions. Some southern regions of China are happy to enjoy wild meat and seafood. However, consuming snakes, a common practice in these regions, is considered an act of sacrilege in other places where the snake is thought to be a guardian of humans. Instead, it should be cherished and cared for so that man and snake can live in harmony. Fishers living along the coast often have many food taboos because of their particular occupations. For the first meal of fish in the new year, raw fish must be brought to the boat's bow and offered to the King of the Dragon and the God of the Sea. When eating the fish, after finishing the meat on the side of the fish that faces up, the entire carcass must be removed before eating the underside, but the fish must not be turned over. Each meal must have fish leftovers, with a bowl of fish soup to be poured into the pot to cook the next meal. The importance of these customs is to symbolize the constant availability of fish. The food leftovers, including carcasses of fish and muddy waters, should not be poured into the sea. The Tibetans on China's western border have many meat-related taboos, and snake or marine species are seldom eaten. Some people do not even eat eggs or birds.

Tibetans never hunt for food, particularly snow pigeons, and consider them to be sacred beings. Even with beef or lamb, they never eat fresh meat from livestock killed on the same day. It is assumed that while the animals have been killed, their souls remain. So people have to wait until the second day before eating the meat. Garlic is also a taboo topic for the Tibetans. When worshiping on sacred grounds, garlic will taint the holy place. Different nationalities may have opposite abstentions when it comes to food.

Chickens and ducks are also used to treat guests at the Miao people's banquets; chicken hearts and livers are the most precious parts and are first given to elders or guests. However, Nu nationality refrains from killing chickens to treat visitors. The Yi nationality of Yunnan Province has not only numerous but also unusual taboos. If the chopsticks split when one stirs the food with them, then the food is no longer edible. It is also not possible to make flour if the mill spindle breaks during the milling process. If a sheep unexpectedly cries out before it is slaughtered, its life should be spared. If the table has just been set full of food, and a chicken mistakenly hops over the plates, the meal must be re-made. Kids cannot eat chicken stomach and tail, pork ears, sheep ears, and more.

Forbearances in the diet have unwittingly produced a line-up of very distinctive and unique foods and beverages, and Chinese vegetarian dishes are the most typical of this category. Many Buddhist temples and Daoist monasteries have specialty vegetarian dishes, with a fresh taste, an elegant look, a great variety, and colours and shapes that all rival meat dishes. Fa Yuan Temple of Beijing has Koumo (a form of dried mushroom) potstickers; Nanjing's Bao En Temple has Soft Fragrant Cakes; Nanjing's "Cow Head" Tofu by Monk Xiao Tang is very popular, and in Xiamen City, there are Soup Vegetables from the South Pu Tuo Temple. All the dishes are the special pride of the various holy places.


Cinnamon is one of the earliest spices known in China, and is mentioned in the first Chinese herbal book in 2,700 BC. Southwestern Szechuan and Hunan cuisines use more chilli peppers than any other region in China due to the exportation of "New World" or American foods travelling from the Ganges River across Burma and into Western China.

Ginger, sliced scallions, garlic, sesame oil, Chinese "wine," and soy sauce are typical northern flavours. Traditionally, spices were uncommon. Coriander leaves (cilantro), imported from the Near East in early medieval times, are frequently used as a seasoning or garnish.

Piquant seasoning is an ancient custom. Chile peppers take the forefront, and as a result, is China's spiciest cuisine. In the seventeenth century, chiles reached China from the New World, possibly overland from India or upriver from Macau and east China. Before this, however, the region already enjoyed piquancy. The Songs of the South, a collection of poems from Chu's old state, references smartweed, southernwood, and other potent herbs and spices. Ginger and garlic were widely used. Dry daylily buds, which are also peppery in the mouth, have been used since ancient times.

At some stage in ancient history, Southeast Asia started to trade real pepper into China. It was eagerly welcomed in Western China. As elsewhere in China, white pepper is used almost exclusively and is produced from young fruits with its dark coating rubbed off instead of the black form made from completely mature fruits, used in much of the world.

The white pepper allowed western Chinese cuisine to be fiery even before chillies arrived. Today, Hunan-Sichuan cuisine is the only cuisine globally that extensively utilizes all three forms of pepper—brown, white, and red, and uses all three simultaneously in a single dish. Like English, Chinese classifies all three as "peppers" or Jiau, initially referring to brown pepper, although they are botanically unrelated. Only black and white pepper are in the Piperaceae family, whereas brown pepper is in the citrus family, and chillies are in the Solanaceae family, along with tomatoes and white potatoes. A complete meal typically consists of a starch staple, generally rice, with a topping of steamed or stir-fried dishes and an accompanying broth or soup. Lighter meals, such as breakfasts, small lunches, or snacks, contain dumplings or noodle soups. Chillies, brown pepper and other hot spices are used in the stir-fried dishes and soups.

Shaansi cuisine utilizes few vegetables, and the seasoning is simple: chillies are used, but not as often as in Sichuan. A variety of "fish-flavored" dishes, especially eggplant dishes, are named not because they taste like fish, but because they are flavoured like fish, using: garlic, ginger, scallions, oil, and sometimes Chinese "wine." Some of the cuisine's typical dishes include stir-fried bean curd dishes with garlic, brown pepper, and chillies. Today's most famous of these is ma po dou fu, meaning "hemp woman's bean curd." These dishes consist of small cubes of bean curd stir-fried in sesame oil with garlic, brown pepper, chillies, and fermented broad bean-chile paste; ground or finely chopped pork and white pepper are typically added as well. As expected, this recipe has numerous versions, including products like mushrooms and fungi. Some are relatively moderate, but real Sichuan varieties might leave a burning sensation in the mouth.

From China came spices, especially cinnamon and silks, ceramics, paper, peacocks, goats, saddles, felt, and rhubarb.

Hot pepper, a common form of spice for Chinese dishes, has only had 300 years in China. Historical records indicate that hot peppers arrived in China from Peru and Mexico during the late Ming dynasty (1368-1644 A.D.). Even though hot peppers only have a 300-year history in China, the tradition of hot food has always been common.

If we were to suggest that the purpose of eating and drinking is to improve health, then the essential factor of food is nutrition. The Chinese emphasize colour, aroma, taste and shape in food, finding refinement in food vessels and elegance within the dining atmosphere to demonstrate an artistic spirit, and as a result, the Chinese have long promoted the "five tastes in harmony" theory. They have pioneered ways to adapt blended ingredients and spices into a wide range of tastes around the "five tastes": sourness, sweetness, bitterness, pungency and saltiness; dishes will turn into more than 500 different flavours. Of the "five tastes," the critical flavour is saltiness. Salt is required to increase the texture of any food, and without it, no delicacy will emerge in its full glory. However, from a health perspective, salt should not be consumed excessively.

Sourness is also an indispensable taste in food, particularly in China's northern part, where the water is heavy in minerals. Therefore, to induce better digestion of food, vinegar is used in cooking and contributes to appetite. Sour tastes can also neutralize the smell of fish and fat. At banquets with high-fat content and meat dishes, sour dishes are typically complemented and available in multiple variations. The sour taste of plums, fruit and vinegar are distinct from one another, but the different forms of vinegar are differentiated by their processing regions, different ingredients and different production techniques, resulting in varying flavour profiles. Typically, the northerners consider the mature vinegar made in Shanxi as orthodox, while the people of Jiangsu-Zhejiang consider Zhenjiang-made rice vinegar authentic. The province of Shanxi is the most well-known for its vinegar. Many families are skilled in producing vinegar from crops and fruits, and their daily meals rely on it. In Chinese, the word "vinegar" represents feelings of envy between men and women.

Pungency is the most relaxing and involved of the "five tastes." There are considerable variations between pungency and hotness. Hot is a sense of taste that activates the tongue, mouth, and nasal cavity. Instead, pungency is mostly obtained from ginger, while hot and spicy typically refer to hot pepper or black pepper. Since hot peppers were once a foreign commodity, there was no mention of "hot" in ancient Chinese cooking. Instead, they were generalized as pungency. Ginger not only neutralizes the tastes and smells, but it also brings out the great taste of fish and meat. There are also principles for the use of hot peppers. The degree of hotness should be balanced with saltiness and the natural essence of raw ingredients so that the hot and spicy taste is multi-faceted, providing full aroma, flavour and texture. Garlic, scallion, ginger and other spices can also kill bacteria, making them perfect for cold dishes with dressing.

Bitterness is seldom used alone in cooking, but it is a valuable asset. When making simmered or roasted meats, adding tangerine or orange peel, garlic, almonds, and other seasonings with a faint bitter touch can refine food's taste. Traditional Chinese medical theories suggest that bitterness improves stomach health and creates saliva. Some people like a bitter taste in food, such as the Sichuan-style "Strange Taste" type of food with bitter ingredients. Sweetness acts as a cushion to the effects of other essential tastes, while saltiness, sourness, pungency and bitterness are all intense and can be remedied by sweetness. Sugar can enhance and beautify dishes that incorporate other tastes. However, similarly to salt, it should not be used in large quantities. Since many spices can create a sweet taste and taste very differently, much of the culinary world uses cane sugar for sweetness.

What is not mentioned in the "five tastes" but still holds a significant position in the culinary world is "fresh essence." "Fresh Essence" is the most enticing food taste, and most foods all contain "essence" but are often dormant, so making soup is an excellent way to enhance natural flavours. Poultry, pork, beef, fish and game can all be used to make soup stocks. When the unpleasant tastes and smells are extracted during the soup-making process, its robust flavour is entirely revealed by adding a pinch of salt. Essence soup can be consumed directly and can also be used to enhance other foods. Such foods include shark fin, sea cucumber, bird's nest, bean curd and gluten, all of which must be cooked with necessary soup to achieve its mouth-watering taste.

Monosodium glutamate (MSG) is a human-made product. The synthetic nature makes it difficult to equate it with the natural essence of the soup. So professional chefs are not usually interested in using it as a substitute. Chinese cuisine shines with the mixing and blending of flavours, which is assisted by superior culinary techniques that combine natural flavourings and aid the entire range of seasonings. Apart from salt, vinegar, sugar and essence soups, which are representative seasonings, pasta, soya sauce, wine and smelly tofu are widely used as seasonings in Chinese cooking. The paste produced from the fermentation of beans was highly regarded in ancient China and was food for the upper class. Bean pastes must be served at banquets since each meat has a corresponding paste.

In time, pastes became essential seasonings, and a whole series of seasonings emerged as a result, including soya sauce, bean paste, black fermented beans and more. A paste from beans is a Chinese specialty sauce with a significant role in Chinese cuisine and even in the world's culinary timeline. The use of wine for enhancing flavour is also a brilliant innovation. Wine not only kills the rank stench of fish but can also create a genuinely appetizing aroma. Adding a little cooking wine will carry the seasonings and exude the delicious fragrance of the food in the evaporating wine, creating a texture of melt-in-the-mouth tenderness.

Cheese from the Western world borders on a foul smell, but there is a considerable contrast compared to Chinese tofu. Stinky tofu sounds horrible, but taking a bite makes all the difference; it is utterly delicious. Northern and Southern China produces smelly tofu with various flavours and levels of stench. The northern type is used as a sauce, while the southern type is a full dish. It is a delicate operation, from ingredients to production, since Chinese food methods are the art of taste. The bland taste gives the diner a sense of imperfection, so the five tastes must be combined to balance the other's strong points, leaving the diner with a lasting and fulfilling aftertaste. In actual cooking activities, the chef must be versatile in combining the flavours to fulfill tastebuds, seasonal characteristics, and balance. For example, salt on a table full of courses, the first dish to be served would have a regular amount of salt added. However, salt is progressively reduced by the last dish. Usually, the broth that comes at the end has no salt. Of course, the diners do not notice the slight variations and believe that the food is tailored to their tastes.

Cuisines with various taste groups use everyday ingredients, and the standard cooking methods are stir-fry, fry, steam, boil and more. The main difference is the mixing of tastes. Taste blending is a very subtle and delicate art; the portions of different seasonings, order of application and timing (before, during or after cooking) must be precise.

Some people prefer natural flavours and juices through light simmering or steaming. Chicken must maintain its original flavour, and ducks must taste like ducks. Some people like the "strange taste" duck, and some like a rich, decadent taste, while others like light and mild tastes. Modern Chinese, particularly urban people, are becoming increasingly mild-taste-oriented.

The Yue style, or Cantonese food, emphasizes original taste and tender texture to match this trend. No heavy vinegar or soy sauce is used in Cantonese dishes, just minimal oil, salt and sugar. The dishes depend on the fresh essence of the food, so finding the perfect balance of seasonings is essential. This kind of taste choice by urban Chinese most definitely has to do with living improvements. In the past, when food supplies were scarce and freshness preservation technology for food was minimal, using potent seasoning was the only way to make up for the lack of fresh food flavours. Nowadays, thick soups, rich taste and fatty oils are a thing of the past and are no longer the standard for delicious dishes.

Moreover, due to variations in regional climates and living customs, tastes vary considerably. There is a culture and tradition of mixing and combining tastes according to the seasons. When all plants bud in the spring, and life begins again, food is the most vulnerable to bacterial contamination. When making cold food with dressings, vinegar and crushed garlic can contain bacteria. Summer heat accelerates dehydration, so people prefer foods with a good base or slightly bitter flavour, such as bitter gourd or leaf mustard. High-calorie foods and hot and spicy foods are most often eaten in the fall. In winter, high-calorie and dense tasting foods are a healthy supplement, and salt intake can be increased to aid in the digestion of meats. The Five tastes work in harmony, giving importance to the palate's taste and enjoyment, and it is also a good health restorative and body-regulating process. Traditional medicinal theories claim that pungency can control bodily fluids, blood and qi (chi), treat bone and muscle pain due to coldness, and even help with kidney problems. Sweetness nourishes, soothes, and enhances mood. Red jujube and honey are excellent tonic foods for frail physiques, and a sour taste relieves diarrhea and induces saliva to quench thirst. Sour vinegar prevents colds, while eggs boiled in vinegar will prevent coughs. These folk remedies also have significant modern medical recognition.

Bitterness releases excess heat from the body, improves vision, and detoxifies the body. Five tastes in harmony are a vital factor for excellent health and long life. The "five tastes in harmony" should include the following three phases of its meaning:

Each dish must have a unique flavour, and different courses should have different flavours to complement each other and create balance.

It is essential to adjust the thickness of the taste so that the seasonings can work to change tastes from dish to dish.

When eating, it is suggested to eat a variety of foods with different tastes.

"Harmony" is the nature of Chinese philosophy, with multiple meanings like "harmonious," "peace," and "unison." "Harmony" is also the highest transcendence of the culinary arts. The "Five tastes in harmony" reflects the pursuit of moderation, equilibrium and balance, while respecting the forces of nature.



Hot red Sichuan peppers are an important ingredient within Sichuan cuisine, but it was not present within the area until the 16th century, after it was brought to Europe by Christopher Columbus, then traveled to India by the Portuguese. It then made its journey to China as a result of either the Indians, the Portuguese, the Andalusians or the Basques.

Huajiao, known in English as "Sichuan pepper," "brown pepper," or "fagara," is a large shrub or little tree. Since it is thorny, it is often used as a living barrier that happens to produce little brown berries. The berries grow twinned on a small stalk, giving the male genitalia an ancient poetic euphemism. They have a pungent, rich flavour of citrus and peppery overtones, and when chewed, they create a strange numbness in the lips.


Chopsticks first appear in Zhou Dynasty documents. These little sticks used to pick up food, presumably date to a distant past. They have conditioned Chinese food preparation; food gets quickly manipulated when chopped or rendered into tiny enough bits. The Chinese word is kuaizi, "little quick ones," from which the English name—"chop," meaning "fast," in pidgin English.