The food of China is renowned throughout the world for its enchantingly complex taste and rich aroma. But there is another aspect of true Chinese cuisine: the color. In Eastern philosophy, balancing opposing forces – or in this case, balancing and blending different tastes, smells, and sights – creates harmony. It also creates wonderful dishes that are as aesthetically-pleasing as they are palette-pleasing.

Food is an integral element of Chinese culture. Its ancient rituals are steeped in great meaning. One reason for the abundance of color in traditional Chinese cuisine is that it is thought that the attractive appearance increases the appetite. We agree! Because food is considered a vital component of good health, the explosion of hues can also indicate the freshness of the dish’s ingredients, as well as the harmonious blend of nutrients it offers.

In Traditional Chinese Medicine, there is a concept of the 5 Elements, and each element has a corresponding color:

  • Fire: Red.
  • Earth: Yellow.
  • Metal: White.
  • Water: Blue/Black.
  • Wood: Green.

Not surprisingly, red, yellow, white, blue, black, and green are the most frequent tones found in Chinese cuisine. The elements also correspond to specific body organs: fire, for instance, corresponds with the tongue (think of those spicy red peppers on your tongue!), vessels, pericardium, and intestines. Eating foods that are red are thought to boost functioning in these body areas. In traditional dishes, the blend of colors may be beautiful – but also intended to balance and strengthen the body’s organs and functions.

Even the most simple of dishes, like beef and broccoli, is a work of art: the white of the rice, the rich brown of the meat, the fresh green of the broccoli, and the flash of orange from sliced carrots entice the hungry diner. A bowl of Mapo Tofu turns humble soy or bean curds into a spicy delight as it blends the flavors, aromas, and colors of ginger, garlic, tofu, Sichuan peppercorn, mushroom, and scallion. Regardless of whether you believe this will balance your body and health, it certainly makes for an alluring meal!

When prepared well and with a balance of the three key elements – color, aroma, and taste – Chinese cuisine is a cultural experience not to be missed. Take a moment to savor the tones and hues of the foods before indulging. It will only enhance the taste that much more!

Enid Glasgow