Five Transformations


The traditional Chinese medical theory known as the five transformations describes a universal cycle of energy flow.

God, or infinity, manifests in yin and yang, and these two primordial energies subdivide into five major branches.  All of nature reflects these five phrases of development.

First there is the seed, correlating to upward, spring energy.  This sprouting and growth is followed by ripening and blossoming, depicting summer's expansive energy.  This in turn leads to inward, gathering energy, then to harvest and storage, and finally to dormancy and replanting.

The seasons of the year, the hours of the day, and the periods of development in our lives all pass through these five stages.  The various tastes for example correlates with particular seasons, times, and organs which they nourish.

The Five Seasonings

In macrobiotic cooking we present a full range of tastes at every meal.  The naturally sweet taste of whole grains and vegetables makes up about 60-80% of the meal. The other tastes are represented in side dishes, sauces and condiments.

Depending upon the season and one's personal health, the meal may be modified to slightly accentuate a specific taste.

Sour - A sour taste is associated with spring.  Sour-tasting food contracts, shrinks and gives quickening energy.   It is especially beneficial for the liver and gallbladder.  Sourdough bread, vinegar, sauerkraut and lemon are typical sour tastes.

Bitter - A bitter or burnt taste is associated with summer.  Its energy is dry and dispersing.  Bitter foods, which stimulate the heart and small intestine, include dandelion, burdock, black sesame seeds and some types of corn.

Sweet - A sweet taste corresponds with late summer.   Typical examples include whole grains, greens and many vegetables, especially round vegetables such as onions, squashes, and cabbages.   Natural sweetness is a nourishing energy.  It relaxes and centers the whole body, though it is especially soothing to the spleen, stomach and pancreas. Modern refined sugar is actually not a sweet taste, but pungent.

Pungent - A hot or spicy taste correlates with the tang of autumn and gives hot, dispersing energy.   Pungent foods have strong upward and outward power that stimulates circulation and helps discharge material from deep inside the body toward the surface.  Typical examples include scallions, daikon and ginger.  A sharp pungent taste is beneficial to the lungs and large intestines.  However, foods that are too spicy, such as tropical spices, create hyperactivity, over stimulate the blood and irritate the intestines.

Salty - A salty taste corresponds with wintertime and gives strong downward, discharging energy. Good quality salt softens a hardened condition and is good for strengthening the kidneys and bladder.  Typical examples are sea vegetables, miso, umeboshi plums and shoyu soy sauce.  Animal foods, which contain high amounts of sodium, are overly salty and can lead to tight kidneys, putting additional strain on the heart.