Keeping healthy is always a challenge, especially in winter. Knowing how to use foods linked to the five different essential tastes is a great way to start keeping yourself warm from the inside, as it were. It’s definitely a time to avoid chilled foods!
Using small amounts of these pungent foods can have a surprisingly large effect. Think of the stimulation to your taste buds when you add a dot of wasabi to a nori/sushi roll!
We all know fresh root ginger is warming – what could be better than a warm ginger, lemon and honey drink (above) on a cold day? – and we easily think of the same heating effect we receive from horseradish or wasabi, mustard, lime pickles, and daikon, the strong large white radish.
Onion, pepper and garlic, chilli peppers (left) and hot spices are obvious choices to stimulate digestion and improve your metabolism. The legume is lentils; the grain is brown rice.
The stimulating pungent foods with their sharp, biting quality are harvested in late autumn and as you would expect have a dense, concentrated energy. Of course, in cooler weather we are naturally inclined to use cooking styles that send strong energy into the food, such as pressure cooking and baking. The slower growing energy-dense root and strong leafy green vegetables are ideal for the coming winter season and often keep well in storage. We tend to eat these richer, heavier foods to give us warmth, and pungent foods are a particularly useful gift from the garden as they cut through the richness to lighten the after-effects. Think of how adding a small knob of finely chopped ginger enlivens the heavy sweetness of pumpkin soup.
Not all winter food has to be slow cooked. Here’s a quick pickle using daikon (below) that can be prepared in seconds for the table.
Peel and grate a little daikon into a small bowl, cover with some shoyu or tamari (the latter is wheat-free and richer in taste) – and it’s done! Or make it ahead of time and leave it to marinate. It keeps for a few days in the fridge (keep it covered or it will dry out). But use it sparingly, by the teaspoonful. The sauce is salty and, if you like it, can be surprisingly more-ish. It’s great served with a simple base of brown rice, tofu and steamed veges.
Daikon, like anything pungent, is usually an acquired taste. Many people avoid it, but it’s worth learning to appreciate for its benefits. Pungent foods tend to be taken in small quantities, but those small quantities are important.
Pungent foods have a light, dry effect on on your body and are the most stimulating of all to your digestion. They can certainly clear your sinuses, and can have the same clearing effect on your mind! A bit of pungency can definitely be beneficial, as it’s a strong motivator and gets you moving. But be aware: too much can create anger, aggressiveness and resentment. Just as you would expect from over-stimulation in any form.
In some ways the pungent taste is not too different from the sixth: astringent. Some of the foods that qualify in Ayurveda as astringent include chillis and onions. Macrobiotics does not have an astringent category so they’re regarded as pungent. Still, it’s useful to be aware of the different properties, as we’ll see in a later blog.
Next up: the salt-of-the-earth good taste.