Flavours. Sweet Potato Soup.

Five Element Acupuncture and Taste.

Including a great recipe for five-flavours sweet potato soup.

acupuncture chart

In five element acupuncture, the body/mind/spirit is divided into five elements: fire, earth, metal, water and wood.  Each element  houses different aspects of our physical being, our personality, our moods and emotions and our characteristics.  It is a system that is both complex, and wonderfully simple at the same time.  In this blogpost, I hope to elaborate on flavours.

Each element is governed by a particular flavour:

Fire: Bitter flavours such as coffee, raw cacao and certain herbs and spices

Earth: Sweet flavours such as sugar and fruit

Metal: Pungent flavours such as spices and certain herbs

Wood: Sour flavours such as vinegar, lemon juice, onions

Water: Salty flavours such as salt and tamari

Of course, lots of basic ingredients have more than one intrinsic flavour, for example, garlic is both pungent and bitter, and cherries are both sweet and sour.

When it comes to flavouring a dish, it’s very useful to use different flavours to enhance and/or rein in others.  Some dishes, notably many Asian dishes, include all these flavours, and, in the right quantities, they blend together to create complex and well balanced tastes that thrill the palate.  There is an art to this as it can easily go wrong.

Classic flavour combinations may only include two or three different flavours, which can fire each other up to create lively and exciting blends. It’s not necessary to add all five flavours to every dish, just put the right ones together.

A good balanced diet will include all of the flavours, in a creative, interesting and varied way.  An excess of any particular flavour in the diet is not such a good way to go.

What I want to say is this; bearing in mind these flavours, it’s possible to create really great dishes that have a complexity of flavour that exceeds the sum of the parts.  It only requires a little imagination, exploration and experimentation.

A recipe for sweet potato soup that uses all five flavours.

Ingredients: (amply serves 4)  

  • 2 tbs. oil. ( I use olive oil).
  • 3lb sweet potatoes – peeled and cubed (about 1 inch cubes).
  • 1lb of onion and/or leeks – roughly chopped.
  • 2 large garlic cloves – roughly chopped.
  • I tsp salt ( I use Himalayan salt).
  • 1/2 tsp. chilli powder.
  • 1/2 tsp. turmeric.
  • *1/3 grated lemon (see tip).
  • Enough water to cover.
  • Flavours: cider vinegar, tamari.
  • (Optional added extras: more salt, more chilli, ginger)


  • Heat the olive oil.
  • Add the chopped onions and leeks. Lightly saute.
  • Add the chilli, turmeric and salt – saute for 2 minutes.
  • Add the diced sweet potato.
  • Turn the potatoes until lightly covered in oil. ( 2 mins.)
  • Add enough hot water to amply cover the ingredients.
  • Bring to the boil, then cover and simmer gently for up to an hour, until the sweet potato is soft.
  • Blend until smooth in a food processor, or with a hand blender.  Return to the pan, and simmer gently.
  • Taste.

What, in terms of the five flavours, does it need?

The sweetness is there with the potatoes, as is the sour pungency of the alliums (leeks, onions).  The chilli provides a gentle background warmth.

So, it’s up to you.  I added 2 tbs. cider vinegar and 1 tbs. of tamari, and an extra 1/2 tsp. salt.  The tang of the lemon and the vinegar and the salty tang of the tamari complimented the underlying sweetness perfectly.

Let the flavours blend on a low simmer for ten minutes.

Taste again.   Add whatever your taste buds tell you.

Don’t add anything if you don’t need to.

Garnish with a swirl of coconut cream and chopped fresh sage leaves (a hint of musty bitterness).

The perfect five-flavours warming soup.

*Tip: Buy organic unwaxed lemons and freeze them.  When you need lemon, just take one from the freezer and grate as much as you need, (including the peel), returning the unused part of the lemon to the freezer.  This way you get lots of lemoniness with no waste.  #wastenot.




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