The concept of Yin and Yang is an ancient Chinese philosophy developed from the sacred text of the I-Ching. Adaptation today in the world of cooking means that we can enjoy this basic philosophy of balance, and using the force of opposites. The concept of opposites promotes the idea that for every energy ‘giver’, there is also an energy ‘taker.’ When these forces are combined, in either a physical, mental, or spiritual domain, a natural state of balance and beauty is a result. The Chinese philosophy of ‘Chi’ plays a strong role in this, as this is our body’s natural energy flow. When Chi is blocked, the result is an imbalance, or disease.
Cooking techniques and choices of food vary across regions, and China is no different. Ancient healing foods include particular characteristics that defines them as Yin foods or Yang foods. This is one approach to balanced and healthy cooking, emphasizing a need for natural Chi flow and continuing to focus on equilibrium.
Yin foods are usually water-based, lighter, refreshing, and high in potassium. They grow well in a hot climate, and are cooked easily and digested well. These foods are also cooling, and will essentially ‘slow’ down your digestive fire over the long-term. Lettuce, light vegetables, tofu, some beans, and water-based fruits fall into this category.
Yang foods are more solid, and although they digest well, they provide almost ‘robust’ energy. Meats and most proteins fall into this category, as well as sesame products, heavy rice, bamboo shoots, and eggs. Yang food grows well in colder climates, and tend to warm up the body, create tighter muscles/tension, and increase energy flow.
The spectrum from extreme Yin to extreme Yang also runs behind this philosophy, with tomatoes, fruits, soy milk, honey, and seasonings classified as extreme Yin, followed by leafy greens, beans, and tofu .Neutral foods include brown rice, cabbage, seaweed, and sesame-based products. Moving towards Yang, we find carrots, turnips, and buckwheat, followed by extreme Yang of meats, cheese, eggs, salt, and miso.
Chinese cooking has a specific set of techniques and general ingredients that most of us are familiar with. Cooking techniques that are classified as Yin are steaming, poaching, and boiling. When thinking of Yin, it’s important to recognize its light and water properties. Cooking techniques for Yang are stir-frying, deep-frying, and roasting. Again, it’s important to relate Yang to heavier, ‘stronger’ styles of cooking, and food groups.
When attempting to correct a condition or upset in your system through healing with food, Yin and Yang food groups give us an opportunity to see where any extreme foods may be the cause of the problem. For example, a dietary change of less red meat may be in order if you are finding yourself restless, agitated, too tense, and overly heated. Conversely, if your metabolism seems sluggish and depleted of energy, you may be consuming too many Yin foods such as lettuce, beans, and fruit.
Herbal teas may also play a role in establishing equilibrium, and a variety of Chinese herbal concoctions are available at most health food stores. The macrobiotic diet promotes the basic principles of yin and yang within its framework; here, the emphasis is on nutrition and strength from pure, grain-based, and vegetarian foods. It incorporates yin and yang cooking techniques, philosophy, and overall goal within its ‘meal plans’ and may be a good start for those interested in this approach.
A final aspect of Yin and Yang philosophy in food may be found with this quote “”Yang is the tendency to gather. Yin is the tendency to disperse.” This emphasizes the overall strengths and weaknesses of each food, its properties, and its ability to provide energy. High energy foods derived from sugar and caffeine are different than high energy derived from meats and proteins. The balance comes into play when the two are mixed with their opposites, and not combined, thus creating an imbalanced system. The yin/yang symbol itself symbolizes wholeness and balance within opposite forces; this is the same when applied to healthy cooking techniques and food group balance.