As the backlash against processed food grows, interest in holistic approaches to health has hit new heights. Increasingly, people are looking to superfoods, natural products, plants and herbs as a way to ward off illnesses and maintain optimal health.
In response to this interest, the Chinese Cuisine Training Institute (CCTI) recently organised a course on Chinese tonic foods. It brought together health-conscious individuals from all walks of life - from professional chefs to housewives and students - all wanting to learn about the principles of food therapy and theories of Chinese dietetics.
"I've been eating tonic foods from a young age, so learning about the theoretical basis has helped to enlighten me," says Anita Chan, who was one of 19 course participants. "I am here to learn more about the maintenance of health and prevention of diseases so that I can apply this knowledge when cooking meals for my family."
The course, led by Tung Shuang, assistant professor at the Chinese medicine division of the University of Hong Kong's School of Professional and Continuing Education, also taught participants how to put theories into practice in the kitchen.
She highlights the importance of eating according to the seasons. During summer, for example, "summer heat evil" - one of the six climatic evils in TCM - causes deficiency of the life energy, qi, and body fluids. This is characterised by heat diseases in the summer, and damp diseases in the late summer and early autumn.
"Heat can lead to a disturbance of the mind, which manifests as irritability, dizziness and headache, while loss of qi and disturbance of harmony results in fatigue, dry mouth, constipation, dry throat, sore throat, oral ulcers, toothache, acne and nosebleeds," says Tung.
"Dampness tends to block the natural upward flow of qi from the spleen, which results in excessive intestinal fluids, exhibited as diarrhoea and loose stools. Dampness also blocks the natural downward flow of qi from the stomach, resulting in poor appetite, oral ulcers, acne, toothache, nausea and vomiting."
To clear summer heat, Tung recommends foods of a cold (yin) nature such as tomato, winter melon, silk melon, bitter gourd, aubergine, watermelon, water chestnut, plum and pear. These are suitable for relieving dry mouth, a sore throat and nosebleeds.
Teenagers with summer acne can benefit from drinking a special concoction, made by boiling mung beans, lotus leaf, wild chrysanthemum and smilax glabra root (sarsaparilla) in water.
Tonic foods like barley, lentils, red bean, melon and tangerine peel are useful for reducing dampness. To aid digestion, relieve dampness and increase appetite, Tung suggests drinking barley and winter melon soup. This can be made by placing 30 grams of pearl barley, a large slice of winter melon with skin on, a piece of lean meat, six grams of dried tangerine peel, and two slices of fresh ginger in a pot, covering everything in water and boiling for 30 to 45 minutes.
John K.C. Wan, an anthropology student, found the course useful. He says: "My grandparents were in the TCM business, so foods and dishes were always prepared according to our state of health. But I never really understood the theory behind them. Attending this course has helped me link theory to practice."
For more information on Chinese tonic food courses, contact CCTI on 2538 2200 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org