Usually poorly translated as Five Elements, it gives the impression of five nouns, rather than five verbs denoting interdependence, interaction, and transformation.
Tai Chi Theory is found in countless aspects of Chinese Culture. Cooking provides a good teaching example that is also very tasty.
A chef told me, every dish contains the Five Elements. They must be balanced properly in the right proportion and often one or two elements are elevated to the foreground.
The five flavors / tastes are:
Salty, sweet, sour, bitter, pungent (spicy).
When they are all blended together the flavor is transformed.
Sweet and Sour Pork
General Tso’s chicken (sweet and spicy)
Salt and Pepper Shrimp
Stir-fried bitter melon
Pickled cabbage (many varieties of flavor)
Chinese 5 Spice Powder** (cinnamon, cloves, fennel, star anise, and Szechwan peppercorns) – encompasses all five flavors
Restaurant cooking outside of Chinese uses the 5 white powders: sugar, salt, cornstarch* (thicken sauces), white pepper and MSG (no longer used by customer demand). Yet another example of Five Element cooking.
Image: A traditional wood fueled wok stove. Wok cooking is meant to be fuel efficient. Cutting ingredient small and thin, they cook quickly in hot oil. Chinese immigrants added indigenous ingredients like ketchup (tomato product in beef gravy) into their dishes and modified the taste to please their new homeland guests.
*Better restaurants use this sparingly. I often ask for no cornstarch, preferring a runny thin sauce, rather than a thick glue that encapsulates the oil. Less calories.
**Great for roasted sweet potatoes.
Note: Who cooks your food is important. Just by cooking for ourselves, we can eat healthier. We will be more conscious of the amounts of salt, sugar, and fat used in cooking.
Note: Buddhists avoid meat, garlic, and onions. Dishes are usually not spicy. Buddha’s Delight is a mix of vegetables and steamed or fried tofu.
Note: An aspect of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), Tai Chi Dietary classifies everything we eat as yin or yang based on its reaction inside the body. Like medicine, foods can either tonify or sedate our Qi flow. Energy food is nothing new.