Below this introduction to the flavors, Sharla Chao-Zi Cooper welcomes us into the midst of the upsurges of spring by using the metaphorical and empirical science of traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). TCM sees spring and summer as Yang seasons signified by increasing light, warmth, and growth, with the overall energetic directional flow being upward and outward (expansive). [For a more complete explanation of the flavors in the context of Chinese medicine, please refer to my book, Healing with Whole Foods: Asian Traditions and Modern Nutrition.]
Furthermore, the ancient Chinese felt that in order to achieve the best health attributes, one creates and mirrors the current season internally. One way to create internal spring and summer is by eating foods of appropriate flavors that create those seasonal energetics within us. For example, the rising expanding Yang flavors are sweet and pungent. So, making sure these are amply represented, starting in the early spring diet, is thought to be a prudent health choice. As spring turns into the torrid heat of summer, then one wisely adds the most Yang, fiery flavors, such as hot peppers.
So what are the sweet flavors? Most staple foods in planetary diets are considered sweet.
Balanced sweet food examples—
adapted to the modern microbiome*
→ Ideal seeds and nuts
The modern person is greatly deficient in quality essential fatty acids, especially the omega-3 variety. So the three omega-3 rich seeds—flax seed, hemp seed, and chia seed—can benefit most people. Almonds also are beneficial sources of nutrition, and a unique nut because they—similar to the omega-3 seeds but unlike the vast majority of other nuts and seeds—do not greatly contribute to “damp-heat” [damp-heat, a term from Chinese medicine, can indicate a moist infected area with signs of inflammation; this is how the overgrowth of yeast and fungi infection—that displaces beneficial bacteria—manifests in 95% of people in the developed world. This overwhelming marjority of people in advanced societies have devastated their microbiomes with antibiotics, birth control pills, overconsumption of sweets, and with the use of certain drugs].
*Microbiome represents the 100 trillion or so resident microbes in our body that support immunity and numerous other physiologic and mental functions. Researchers are beginning to realize that a vital and balanced microbiome greatly influences our health and well-being.
Another unique seed that most folks do well with is roasted pumpkin seeds. And finally, coconut that is whole, shredded or in the form of flour is often a healthful addition to the diet. Coconut oil can help overcome yeast/fungi overgrowth and is richly supplied in every form of coconut except coconut water. From my studies in areas where coconut oil has been used for centuries, the isolated oil functions best in conjunction with another form of the unrefined coconut (e.g., shredded coconut or chunks of coconut meat) in the same meal.
→ Grains (rice, millet, oats, quinoa, rye, corn, buckwheat, and others)
Several generations ago, people could healthfully use whole grains as the major food in their diets. Now, because of the pervasive microbiome devastation noted above, eating a diet of much more than 20% grain provides too much carbohydrate and feeds the yeast-fungal overgrowth as well as other associated infections. Unfortunately, most wheat is too hybridized and thus denatured, to recommend widely. If you are among the aforementioned 95%, one option for adding more grain to your diet is to sprout them. Sprouted rice, for example, instead of feeding yeast and fungi overgrowth, actually helps eliminate it. Those whose beneficial microbial community is most damaged do best by consuming no grain other than the sprouted variety. [Signs of yeast/fungi overgrowth are given in my book, listed earlier.] According to archeological studies, whole grains as a main feature of the diet supplied a wide range of nutrients that helped enlarge the human brain dramatically and brought forth an ancient enlightened state, as we saw in the golden ages in India, elsewhere in Asia, and the Middle East.
→ Legumes (fresh peas and fresh string beans, green fava bean, edamame, lentils, mung bean, tempeh, natto, black bean, garbanzo bean, kidney bean, et al.)
Legumes are richly supplied with protein and carbohydrate. Yet with every generation, more people struggle with gas and bloating associated with legume consumption, partly a result of the same infection-overgrowth issue described above. The legumes that digest best are fresh green peas, fresh green beans (e.g., string beans), tempeh, and all sprouted legumes. Normally cook sprouted legumes well. All legumes that are properly prepared can help nurture us foundationally, by fortifying our bones, kidney-adrenals and heart. They also add an abundance of dietary magnesium which opens up emotional and physical flows in the body—exactly what we require in the more active, warmer and regenerative times of the year.
→ Roots and tubers
We are learning by means of the newest carbon dating technologies that ancient cave people and hunter gatherers had diets composed of 50% or more carbohydrate. Wild meat consumption averaged between 5 and 17% of the diet. Berries also occupied approximately 17% of the diet, about the same as the upper level of meat consumption. And most of the remainder of foods were roots and tubers or other carbohydrate sources such as wild honey directly from the hive. Roots and tubers seem to aggravate the yeast/fungi syndrome less than grains and legumes but contain far less amino acids, fatty acids, minerals, and polysaccharides. Examples include:
*Ideal varieties to use in springtime.
→ Dairy products including milk, butter, cheese, yogurt, kefir (most dairy ferments are sour, sweet, and pungent) Some basic guidelines for dairy consumption appear in the “Meats” section, next.
→ Meats such as fowl, buffalo, beef, lamb, and certain fish
Note that meats and dairy products, though basically sweet, also manifest a Yin component (heavy, rich, and cloying) and if overdone in the diet, can work against our emphasis on Yang, upward surging foods. Thus, to navigate the warmer Yang seasons, we limit animal product intake at least somewhat, especially when intent on a spring or summer cleansing protocol.
Virtually all vegetables, particularly when raw, juiced, fermented, or lightly cooked, tend to cleanse the effects of excessive animal product consumption. Fish are among the healthiest animal foods because of their rich omega-3 fatty acid content. Low-mercury types include wild Alaskan salmon, mackerel, sardine, and herring.
A vegetarian diet, according to the adherents of some yogic and other traditions, is more compassionate, because it spares the lives of animals. And any wholesome, highly plant-based diet indicates less need for spring cleansing.
For those requiring animal products, dairy products from vital, pastured animals often supply the appropriate fats, proteins and other key nutrients. Some of the highest quality and most digestible dairy products are from goats. Otherwise selecting dairy foods from Jersey or Guernsey cows (in some stores and becoming more available at farmer’s markets) provides better quality fats than from Holstein cows.
→ Fruits and sugars The ultra-sweet flavors such as sugar, maple syrup, rice syrup, and agave—which can cause spikes in blood sugar and foster yeast overgrowth and all other infections—do not contribute the enduring qualities of more balanced sweet-flavored foods in the above list.
In addition, other than berries, lemon, and lime, modern, highly hybridized fruits can be overly sweet for some individuals and may act in the body like the ultra-sweet flavors.
Thus most people would be wise to notice how they do with fruits and curtail their use if consumption causes low blood sugar (shakiness, weakness, tiredness, nervousness, ungroundedness) or bloating.
Note that eating foods with high sugar content improves low blood sugar at first, though later symptoms can become much worse. Those rare individuals who have superb blood sugar balance may be able to eat quality, unrefined concentrated sweeteners and substantial fruit, without experiencing unpleasant reactions.
So to attune to the upsurges of spring with the sweet flavors that stabilize the Yang experience, one may complement any of the traditional sweet foods on the list with foods that represent springtime, such as sprouts, fresh green shoots, and the micro-greens that are becoming popular rejuvenative foods. Traditional springtime plants include morel mushrooms, asparagus, strawberries, fiddleheads, scallions, and artichokes. And there are a number of other food dimensions to consider, which are emphasized in the “Spring Awakening” article that follows.
What about pungent spices and foods?
The seed spices fennel, dill, anise, caraway, black pepper, oregano, and fenugreek plus turmeric and rosemary are all moderately pungent. Examples of common pungent foods include horseradish, radish and its sprout, mustard and mustard greens, and all allium family members (chive, leek, onion, garlic, scallion, shallot).
As spring transits into summer the hottest spices such as cayenne, jalapeno, and habanero can be used in conjunction with the less extreme pungents listed above. This suggestion for using fiery spice is only for those who can tolerate and even thrive with them in the diet. Proceed carefully if you’re not a hot pepper aficionado.
The pungent and hot flavors directly improve nutrient absorption and distribution as well as enhance the entire metabolic process. The European Renaissance was fueled in part as a result of the burgeoning spice trade with Asia. Pungents, by improving our ability to utilize nutrients, catalyze the bio- and neurochemicals that expand our awareness, encouraging us to reach outward and overcome our resistance to change.
In spring and summer, we not only eat lighter and more expansive foods, but ideally increase time spent outdoors, and initiate an overall more active lifestyle. Attempting to attune to the warm seasons only with food may not succeed. Exercise is a Yang force that greatly assists the pungent flavor in the transformation and utilization of nutrients. Outdoor work becomes a healing gift for the many people who spend most of their lives sitting—often in front of digital screens. The bright, colorful seasons are the time to grow food and flowers and in general, cherish nature.
Healing the Liver via all Flavors
The ancient Chinese healers observed that the Liver organ relates to springtime, and indeed, it often needs cleansing and purification after a winter season when one typically eats heavier, richer foods. To cleanse with nutrition, one may use the sour flavor (according to TCM Five Element Theory), the bitter flavor (bitter is cleansing, purifying and sometimes purgative), the pungent flavor to simulate Qi flow, the sweet flavor to harmonize the entire process, and even a little salty flavor, especially in the form of sea veggies, which are known to provide a healing Yin essence for the liver that purifies and restores. Note that using flavors to become one with the spring and to renew the liver are two interrelated, but different processes.
In the article that follows, Sharla Chao-Zi Cooper provides a sauerkraut recipe for helping restore the liver and, actually, the entire body. And she describes, using the flavors as well as other metaphors of TCM theory, how springtime is the ideal season to begin this kind of healing endeavor.
Spring is a time of renewal and regeneration, when plants wake from winter’s slumber and poke their tender leaves through the soil. Yin changes into Yang, and stored energy moves upwards, stretching out in a burst of growth. In Chinese medicine, spring is also referred to as the time of the Liver, which belongs to the Wood Element rubric.
Just like a tree that stores vital nutrients in its roots to survive the long harsh winter months and releases it into its branches where budding leaves start to grow, our Liver acts in much the same way. It stores blood, Qi, and nutrients; releasing them when the body is in need of such nourishment.
The Liver is associated with rapid growth, regeneration, awakening, restored vision, smooth flow, the color green, and sour flavors. Chinese medicine ascribes the bitter flavor for liver cleansing, the pungents for circulating the liver Qi energy and nutrients, and the sweet flavor (e.g., licorice root herb and most pleasant-tasting whole foods) for sedating an “angry” liver.
Spring is a good time to plant seeds for new ideas and to refresh your mind, body and spirit with foods that harmonize Liver energy. One must take special care transitioning from the cold winter months to more warming temperatures by adding lighter and more cleansing foods gradually to the diet.
Diminish the rich, heavy, salted and fried foods and emphasize sprouts, green foods, some raw foods, and live ferments such as unpasteurized sauerkraut.
Cooking food for a shorter amount of time at higher temperatures, such as stir frying, light steaming and simmering will help seal in nutrients and enzymes. Bringing creativity and inspiration into your cooking will help to harmonize with this dynamic season. Note that the food energetics of springtime and the principles of liver renewal can be applied in any season in which you require rejuvenation.
Ferments mostly fall under the sour flavor, which is associated with the Liver organ and Wood Element. Additionally, ferments exhibit a pungent bouquet, a bitter undertone, and a sweet quality, as fermentation always creates at least a smidgen of sugar alcohols. Traditional sauerkraut often is made with salt, but here we also use the dulse sea vegetable to provide a lighter, spring-like quality as well as supply a higher quality salty flavor organized by algal tissue to preserve and anchor the entire recipe with a plethora of minerals. The “Options” listed at the end of the recipe encourage our creativity in enhancing the sauerkraut with various foods and flavors.
Fermentation is not only a means of preserving, it also aids in digestion, builds the immune system, detoxifies, stimulates the liver, slows cellular death, helps break down and assimilate nutrients, and increases the nutritional value of food. Friendly Lactobacilli plantarum bacteria transforms raw vegetables into beneficial immune boosting goodness. Eighty percent of our immune system is in our Large Intestine and is comprised of trillions of bacteria. Fermented foods replenish and condition the good bacteria and keep pathogenic microorganisms, such as candida and fungi, in check. This replenishing and rebuilding is a direct reflection of spring energy.
Making your own ferments is easy. You don’t have to be an experienced chef or have a lot of food knowledge to make them. Just a little preparation, time and patience are needed. Once you’ve experienced the excitement of making your own ferments, you may feel more intimately connected to the food you eat and the culture of the world that surrounds you. This link opens an article from the New Yorker Magazine that helps one appreciate the value of the microbiome, our total internal microbial community.
What you will need—
1 head of cabbage, red or green. Reserve two leaves and set them aside.
Shred the cabbage head into ribbons with a knife or mandolin into 1/4” strips. Note that you can cut the cabbage into large chunks or finely chopped, it is your preference, and in any case it will still ferment. Larger pieces may take longer to ferment than finely chopped cabbage. Using a food processor is another way to chop the cabbage finely.
Celtic sea salt, 3 teaspoons
Dulse seaweed flakes, 1/4 of a cup. Dulse is an edible seaweed that has a reddish hue to it; it can be found at health food stores or online.
Water, preferably filtered, start with a 1/2 cup
→Place shredded cabbage, sea salt and dulse seaweed in a large bowl Let the mixture set for 30 minutes to allow the salt to break down the cell walls of the cabbage, and then you will start to see the cabbage release its juices. With your hands, mix and squeeze the cabbage to further release the cabbage juice; this will take you the better part of 15 to 20 minutes. Invite your friends over to help you squeeze or you can also do this by pounding with a tamper such as a wooden pestle (use an unbreakable bowl). When you start to see plenty of juice collecting at the bottom of the bowl and the cabbage looks a little translucent, proceed to the next step.
Option: If you are using a food processor: cut up the cabbage head to fit into your processor. Pulse the cabbage until it is broken down and finely chopped. Remove the chopped cabbage from the food processor bowl, place in a clean bowl, and add salt and the dulse. Combining ingredients, you will see that the breaking down of the cabbage into finer pieces in the food processor, releases the juices.
→Pack a glass jar or ceramic crock with the cabbage mix. Press the cabbage down to minimize air bubbles and to release the juice from the cabbage to cover the contents. Pack the jar until it is about a half inch from the mouth of the jar.
→Place reserved cabbage leaves on top to help press down the mixture. The cabbage should be fully submerged in its own juices; if not then top with water until contents are fully covered.
→Screw the cap back on the jar and keep it on a shelf at room temperature, preferably away from direct light, until you start seeing bubbles. Some of the juice may escape, and that is okay. If the kraut starts to look a little “dry”, you can add a bit more water to cover and screw the lid back on tightly.
→Burp the jar every 2 to 3 days depending on the weather. If you are fermenting in a warmer climate, you will need to keep an eye on it and check it once a day. Warmer weather allows for faster fermentation. If you are fermenting at cooler temperatures, fermentation will take longer and you can burp your jar every 2 to 3 days by twisting the cap open and then retightening it. Taste the escaping liquid; if it is to your liking, it is ready. If you like a stronger ferment, keep going and burp the jar every few days until it tastes the way you like it.
Your kraut should smell ripe not rotten and the liquid should have a pleasing sour flavor to it. Keep your delicious new friend in the fridge and enjoy over the weeks and months ahead.
NOTE If you are not accustomed to eating raw sauerkraut, start with eating just 1 teaspoon a day. Otherwise you could have a reaction with upset digestion as a result of purification that is too quick for your system to adapt. Over a few weeks, you can increase gradually to larger amounts. However, even one teaspoon has therapeutic benefits.
OPTIONS There are many fun and endless varieties you can experiment with. Try enhancing the recipe with seed spices such as mustard, fennel, celery, and caraway and different vegetables, including carrots, turnips, jicama, radishes, garlic, parsnips and fennel. By adding hot pepper, the sauerkraut exhibits the energetics of summer and even takes on some characteristics of the fiery Korean “kim chee” sauerkraut.
The possibilities are endless, just go with flavors you like and most of all have fun doing it!