For a few years now, I have been tinkering in the world of macrobiotics! I’ve been busy closely reading books on the subject and cooking macrobiotic-ally for myself ‘most of the time’ (= check out my instagram!).
As do most people first getting in to macrobiotics, I was initially only interested in the healthy diet aspect of it, but the more I read about the philosophy (= the idea extend beyond food and offer tips on how to navigate life’s choices), I got it – it is like as if a new window opened, and I felt as though my directionless feeling of how to become better found a new wholesome direction to follow.
The three principle concepts of macrobiotics are:
Pronouced either Shindofuni or shindofuji depending on application. The first one is a Buddhist term that means that our body is inseparable from the land. The second way of saying it was born in the 1912 by a healthy eating organisation called Shokuyōkai. They used it to mean local seasonal food and traditional food is good for the body.
Pronounced Ichibutsuzentai, it means eat the whole thing (the peel, the roots, etc) for a well-balanced and life-filled food.
Pronounced Inyōchōwa. To maintain good health, the balance between yin and yang is important. It’s a bit similar to the Western concept of the acid/alkaline balance, but it also accounts how the ingredient grew (upward or downward) and how it is cooked.
Macrobiotic eating recommends going easy on meat, dairy, coffee and night-shade vegetables because they are extremely yin or yang, but what I like about macrobiotics is that it doesn’t dictate a definite no-no. Once in a blue moon of eating these are fine, so long as we’re mindful of its effects and balance it with other foods. Besides, food-constriction and depravation’ll drive me insane (!) and I know that I will end up on the rebound and ‘revenge-eat’ it, which would render the effort pointless. My approach to macrobiotics is to look at it as a guideline, not as a set of rules. My philosophy is that with anything in life (such as religion comes to mind), in following it fanatically one can get bunged up in tunnel vision and loose the ‘balance’. We’d also lose the fun! Because sometimes, eating a soft-serve icecream on a cone by the seaside with your beloved children have to be savoured for it’s loveliness.
Anyway, macrobiotics is a big subject that deserves a big write-up, so I won’t attempt to write much more about it here (for now!), but I did want to show you two items that are used in macrobiotic eating! >>>
Umesho is a paste made from plum pickle (= UME-boshi), soya sauce (= SHO-yu), and ginger. It is super-salty and has a strong taste, so, in macrobiotic terms, it is an extremely contracting yang food, compared to expanding and yin foods such as sugar and alcohol.
(Above pic: A jar of Japanese umeshō – a paste made from plum pickle (= UME-boshi), soya sauce (= SHO-yu), and grated ginger.)
What? Yin? Yang? Contracting? Expanding? Does this mean that yang is bad?
The macrobiotic way of eating is about finding the balance between yin and yang in the foods we eat. We mustn’t be too much of neither, as that would create imbalance and un-stability in the body and mind and make us ill. So when you think you’re leaning too much toward yin, i.e. you are feeling cold, fatigued, faint or have a stomach-ache, you can try find solace by eating yang foods to remedy. Perhaps one day I will explain what makes a food yin or yang. Why upward growing or downward growing vegetables differ, and how cooking methods can also alter the yin/yang-ness!
(Above pic: Bag of organic sannenbancha. Inside is a mixture of mostly twigs and some leaves – picture of that is at the top of page.).
By far the most popular way of consuming umesho is by taking a spoonful of this and mixing it in to a warm Japanese tea called ‘ Sannenbancha’.
Compared with other types of tea where only the top-most first tips of the tea leaves are plucked, steamed to stop the fermentation, rolled and dried straight away, ‘sannenbancha’ does not use the first buds. Instead it uses twigs and leaves from a mature tea plant. It is sun-dried then fermented over a long period of time, three years, then thereafter roasted.
So why is Sannenbancha better to consume compared to other teas in macrobiotic terms? Well:
a) The long ferment renders the tea milder and rounded. It becomes almost non-caffeine, non-tannin. Therefore kinder and gentler to the body. So much so that even young children and pregnant women can consume it too.
b) It is full of catechin which supports digestion. The abundant catechin increases the absorption rate of vitamin C, and as a result, it leads to an increase in antioxidant power, which may rejuvenate your skin and can have an anti-ageing effect! It’s ideal for youthful body creation!
c) It also has provitamin C – an antioxidant/ free-radical fighting substance that converts to active vitamin within the body.
d) It’s Yang! They take the twigs and leaves from the bottom part of the tea plant that is closer to the soil which didn’t receive the sun’s glares as much as the top. In this respect, in macrobiotic viewpoint, the tea is on the yang spectrum, just like how root vegetables that grow under the soil are also yang in macro terms. Processes such as sun-drying and long fermenting is also considered yang too. Compared to water being the neutral/ mid-centre point of the spectrum, and whiskey/ beer/ sake and Coca Cola considered ‘cold’ and yin, it is said that Sannenbancha is “THE” macrobiotic drink with it’s warming yang-ness and is considered as a medicinal tea (食養茶).
e) The tea have an alkalising effect. Our modern unbalanced diet of refined carbs, sugar and alcohol (as well as stress) tend to acidify our blood, and it’s said that that could be the root problem to many of our ailments, including cancer! (Cancer thrives in an acidic environment…).
f) The brew doesn’t get overly strong even if you leave the tea in the pot. That is because it’s mostly twigs.
g) It can alleviate symptoms such as digestion, anorexia, diarrhoea, skin problems and diabetes to name but a few!
(Above pic: My favourite way to brew my tea is in the ‘tetsubin’, an iron tea pot~! It boosts your iron intake because some amount of iron leaches in to the water!)
HOW TO MAKE YOUR OWN UMESHŌ TEA
If you don’t have a shop-bought pot of umeshō like mine, don’t despair! You can still easily enjoy an umeshō by making it yourself! Here’s how!
- 5 pieces of genuine umeboshi (*that is made from just plum and salt, nothing else)
- 30ml of genuine soy sauce (*that is made from just soy, wheat and salt, nothing else)
- 5ml of fresh ginger juice
- And to make tea, use tea such as the 3 years old sannenbancha or a kukicha.
How to make:
- Take the seed out of the pickled plum and put the flesh in a blender with soy sauce and ginger.
- Wizz until it is a smooth paste.
- To make umeshō tea, take a half or whole teaspoon of it (depending on preference) in to a mug and pour tea over it.
- Sit back and enjoy!