4 Pillars (四柱命理)

Food, Cooking & the Five Elements


In the Five Element system, it is important to balance these elements within and without for optimum health.  Learning to balance the Five Elements of Food helps ensure that you receive enough nutrients from what you eat and supports the corresponding organs.  One of the best ways to create balance in the body is to eat more foods that correspond to all the Five Flavors : Salty, Sour, Bitter, Sweet and Savory, Pungent or Umami in a way that most suits your personal needs.  Here’s a brief list of foods associated with each element: and their actions on the body:

Water:  All salty foods and dark foods, foods that are purple, black or blue.  Also, fresh fish and salted fish, salted meat, caviar and other fish eggs, shellfish of all kinds, pork, eggs, beans of all kinds, seaweed and sea vegetables, Soy Sauce and Tamari, miso, figs, blueberries, blackberries, eggplant, kale, wild rice, walnuts, sesame seeds, sunflower seeds and pumpkin seeds are water foods. These foods have a softening effect and promote moisture and calming of the body.  They most benefit thin, dry and nervous people.

Wood: All sour foods and many green, fast growing foods, especially those with green stalks and sprouts. Also, chicken, liver, most wild game, wheat, leafy greens like chard, broccoli rabe and spinach, asparagus and celery, citrus fruits – especially lemons, oranges, grapefruit – sour plum, pineapple, starfruit, sourdough bread or crackers, vinegar, yogurt, kimchi, pickles of all kinds, sauerkraut and olives are Wood foods.  These foods can obstruct movement and function as astringents.  They most benefit changeable, erratic and scattered people.

Fire:  All bitter foods and most red foods, especially food that looks like hearts, dried food and hot foods. Also lamb, venison, lettuce and arugula, dandelion and watercress, tomatoes, citrus peel, kumquats, apricots, sweet plums, raspberries, strawberries, rhubarb, peppers, hot chilies, black pepper, cayenne pepper, paprika, wine, beer, coffee, tea, dark chocolate and carbonated beverages are all Fire foods  These foods can reduce heat and dry fluids. They most benefit slow, overweight, overheated and aggressive people.

Earth:  All sweet and starchy foods, particularly yellow, orange and brown foods and root vegetables and very sweet soft fruits.  Other Earth foods are beef, millet, barley, rye, sugar,   milk chocolate, corn, oats, slow cooked onion, watermelon, cantaloupe, sweet apples, sweet cherries, dates, grapes, peaches, carrots, cabbage, potato, sweet potato, bananas and plantains, yam, okra, taro, beets, button and chantarelle mushrooms and other fungus, winter and summer squash, cucumbers, almond, coconut and other tropical fruits like papayas, cherimoyas and mangoes are all earth foods. So are the pulses – lentils and dried peas, peanuts along with syrupy sweets – honey, maple syrup, corn syrup, agave syrup, molasses, rice syrup and barley syrup. These foods slow down acute symptoms and neutralize toxins.  They most benefit dry, nervous and weak people and they calm aggression.

Metal:  All savory foods, pungent foods and white foods, many herbs and spices and prepared condiments. You don’t need a lot of metal foods as they are strong and spicy (not hot) or very simple flavors. The newly discovered taste-buds for the “Umami” flavor is proof of the Metal Element having the ability to taste glutamate – found in shiitake and porcini mushrooms, Parmesan cheese and fish sauce that gives these foods that special savory flavor. Also, white rice, milk, cream, white cheeses, raw onion, garlic, chives, radish – especially cauliflower, turnip, tofu, lotus root, pears, kohlrabi, cinnamon, mint, tarragon, marjoram, rosemary, thyme, scallions, cloves, fennel seed and bulb, cilantro and coriander seeds, parsley, anise, dill, mustard greens, wasabi, horseradish, mustard, basil, and nutmeg are all considered metal foods. These foods have a dispersing effect and promote energy circulation.  They most benefit sluggish, damp, lethargic and cold people.

Many foods cross can be more than one element at a time.  Others can be assigned to different elements based on how they are cooked.  For example, raw onion is the metal element because of its pungency whereas cooked onion is very sweet and becomes earthy, or they may change at different states of growth so that when it is unripe versus when it is ripe.  For example, tomatoes when green are quite sour and therefore belong more to the Wood Element and when they are ripe, belong to the Fire Element.  When they are very sweet, they become Earthier.  The style of cooking also influences the five elements:

Soups, Boiling, Steaming, Poaching, Curing, Freezing and Sous Vide Cooking  – Water
Grilling, Smoking, Searing, Pickling and Fermenting, Campfire Cooking –  Wood
Deep Frying, Stir Frying, Flambeing, Sauteing, Toasting, Dehydrating, Appetizers and Snacks –  Fire
Baking, Roasting, Stewing, Mashing, Pureeing, Jams and Jellies, Caramelizing, Desserts and Candy – Earth
Composed Foods, Garnishes, Condiments, Finishing Sauces, Julienne , Mincing, Dicing – Metal