Get a Taste for the Healing Foods With These 5 Elements

The five elements and their foods.

Each of the elements — Wood, Metal, Fire, Earth, and Water — is associated with a range of foods and flavors, each with a different effect on your health and lifestyle. (Image: Hsuyi Shih via Taste of Life)

In Chinese culture, healing foods have the curative properties of medicine, thanks to Wu Xing, also known as the Five Elements. Wu Xing is said to be found in everything around us, including the human body and the foods we eat, and well-being is supported through consuming foods that compensate for a weak or lacking element in the body. Each of the elements — Wood, Metal, Fire, Earth, and Water — is associated with a range of foods and flavors, with each having a different effect on your health and lifestyle.

With late fall in full swing, try one of these warming recipes featuring the pungent senses of Metal — marlin braised with spicy ginger, garlic, and green onion, followed by comforting rice pudding, infused with vanilla and cinnamon and drizzled with rich caramel.

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The element of Metal is found in pungent flavors, which support the lungs, especially during the transition from hot to cold weather, stimulating circulation and enhancing appetite. Pungency can refer to spice, as well as other foods with cold-dispersing properties, such as ginger, garlic, onion, mustard, and cinnamon.

The Water element is present in the salty tastes that are often found in the ocean, such as oysters and sea cucumbers. It can dispel cysts, as well as improve kidney function.

Sour flavors, such as pomegranate, Chinese plums, and vinegar, belong to the realm of Wood, which relates to the liver and helps balance fluid levels.

Earth, represented by the spleen, encompasses sweet, mild flavors that are said to replenish qi and relieve pain; typical Earth foods include red dates, Chinese licorice, and goji berries.

Bitter foods

Corresponding to the heart, the element of Fire is associated with bitter foods, such as bitter melon, an Asian culinary staple thought to dispel the heat and improve vision, and with tea, with its effect of sharpening mental clarity.

Braised Ginger Marlin.
Braised Ginger Marlin. (Image: Hsuyi Shih via Taste of Life)

Braised Ginger Marlin


  • 2 portions of marlin (300g)
  • 2 tsp oil
  • 100 g ginger
  • 1 sprig of parsley
  • Ground black pepper
  • 1 pear
  • Flour, for coating
  • 4 stalks of green onion
  • 2 medium-sized bell peppers
  • 6 cloves of garlic

For the sauce:

  • 3 tbsp soy sauce (45 ml)
  • 1/2 cup water (118 ml)
  • 1 tbsp sugar (13 g)
  • 1 tsp salt (5 g)
  • 2 tbsp ginger juice

Prepare the ingredients:

Slice the green onions into medium-sized pieces, mince the garlic, and slice the bell pepper; mince a third of the ginger and mash the other two-thirds to make ginger juice. Cut up the pear into 2 cm cubes. Dry the fish portions with a paper towel, and coat them with a thin layer of flour.


Pour 2 tsp of oil into a pan and place on medium heat. Pan-fry the fish pieces on one side for 1 minute, turn over, and fry until light golden brown (about 40 seconds).

Turn the heat to low and move the fish to one side of the pan. Add the ginger and stir fry about 10 seconds. Once the ginger is soft, turn the heat down to a simmer, add in the green onions, bell pepper, and garlic, and stir fry for another 10 seconds. Add in all of the ingredients for the sauce, the pear, and black pepper to taste.

Cover and cook for one minute. Turn the fish over once more and cook for 30 seconds. Transfer to a serving dish and sprinkle with finely chopped parsley.

Serves 3 to 4 as a side dish or 2 as an entree.


Marlin flesh tends to be tough and should be cooked quickly on high heat. Heat level and timing need to be watched carefully for fish that is tender on the inside and browned on the outside. The sweetness of pear in this dish helps mellow out the spicy kick of ginger.

Vanilla Caramel Rice Pudding

Vanilla Caramel Rice Pudding.
Vanilla Caramel Rice Pudding. (Image: Hsuyi Shih via Taste of Life)


For the caramel:

  • ½ cup white sugar (85 g)
  • 2 tbsp water (30 g)
  • 90 ml cream (90 g)
  • 1 tbsp butter (14 g)
  • 1/4 tsp salt (1 g)

For the rice pudding:

  • 1 cup water (240 ml)
  • 1 cup whipping cream (240 ml)
  • 4 cups milk (950 ml)
  • 1 cup of rice
  • 2 cinnamon sticks (8 g)/1 tsp (2 g) ground cinnamon
  • 1 vanilla bean
  • 1 tbsp butter (13 g)


  • 1 orange
  • 3 kiwi
  • 3 bananas
  • Ground cinnamon, for sprinkling


For the caramel: Combine the sugar and water in a pot. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium and simmer, shaking the pot slightly, until the sugar turns an amber color. Stir in the cream, butter, and salt. Bring to a boil again, then lower the heat and simmer until the mixture reaches a toffee color. Remove from heat, let cool, and pour into a container.

For the rice pudding: Rinse the rice. Split open the vanilla bean, scrape the seeds into a bowl, and set the seeds and pod aside. Combine the water, milk, and cream in a pot and bring to a boil. Add in the rice, butter, vanilla pod and seeds, and cinnamon. Bring to a boil once more and cook on low heat for about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Cook until the mixture is thickened, turn off the heat, and remove the cinnamon sticks and vanilla pod.

When ready to serve, transfer the rice pudding to a serving bowl, top it with the caramel, and sprinkle with ground cinnamon. Top with slices of kiwi or banana and grated orange zest, if desired. The pudding can be served hot or cold.

Makes about 6 servings.


The caramel cooks at a very high temperature. It will expand several times after cream is added, so make sure to use a large enough pot. Heavy-bottomed pots or copper pots are the best choices when cooking sugar. If you prefer soft-cooked rice, soak it in water before cooking or cook it for a longer time using more water.

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