One of the most well known ideas about Chinese culture revolves around the idea of Yin and Yang. While most people understand how much this concept affects the lives of the Chinese, many aren’t aware of its role in cooking. In fact, Chinese food has, and continues to have, a rich history of adhering to the principles of Yin and Yang.
The most basic understanding of Yin and Yang is the idea of opposing forces. Light and Dark, Hot and Cold, Positive and Negative, and other ideas like this, are good representations.
A better understanding of yin and yang, however, actually involves thinking of them as complementary forces. As such, it’s not enough to say that Light and Dark are opposing forces – one has to think about their relationship to each other as well. It’s also important to remember that everything has Yin and Yang properties. According to Yin and Yang principles, problems arise whenever there is an improper balance of Yin and Yang in one’s life. In order to correct the problem, one needs to work on properly balancing the forces of yin and yang.
Yin and Yang principles can be heavily applied to Chinese dishes. At the most basic level, if a food is cold, it’s a Yin food. If the food is hot, it’s a Yang food. Yin foods are cool and clear away heat. Yang foods can help eliminate colds and help to warm you up. A simple example would be eating ice cream on a hot day – you have an excess of yang warmth, so you need something yin, like an ice cream, to help balance your body.
More specifically though, every Chinese dish strives to find the perfect balance of Yin and Yang. From the colors, ingredients used, to the actual taste, every dish establishes Yin and Yang principles. A good example of this concept is to think of Mongolian beef. Green and brown are set as opposing colors. Broccoli is considered a Yin food, Beef is a Yang food. And, broccoli and beef each have their own distinct flavor.
Yin and Yang principles apply to every aspect of Chinese cooking, it isn’t just the look and taste of food. It’s also the way of preparing the dish – certain ways of cooking are considered to have either Yin or Yang qualities.