Washoku: Harmony of Food

Food and Travel, International Food
on August 31, 2012

Washoku (wah-sho-ku) can be translated to "harmony of food." In broad terms, it refers to any food that's traditionally Japanese. In culinary applications, it's a way of thinking about what and how to eat.

The philosophy rests on five principals, each having five components:

  • Five colors: Cooks strive to include five colors-red, yellow, green, black and white-in every meal. "Black" foods encompass dark purple and brown, for example, eggplant and shiitake mushrooms.
  • Five tastes: The tastes include salty, sour, sweet, bitter and spicy. Washoku holds that when each taste is represented, palates are stimulated without being overwhelmed.
  • Five ways: Ideally, meals use five preparations, such as broiling, simmering, steaming, frying and pickling.
  • Five senses: Cooks aim to engage all senses: sight, sound and texture, as well as taste and smell.
  • Five outlooks: The outlooks refer to the attitude of those who come to the table, including an appreciation for farmers and cooks, and a desire for both physical and spiritual nourishment.

Washoku is distinctly Japanese, but stems from Chinese traditions. In practice, washoku leads to more than pleasure — it leads to good nutrition. Foods of different colors ensure a balance of vitamins, and employing various cooking methods limits the intake of oil and sugar, thereby limiting calories. As Japanese food authority Elizabeth Andoh points out, the concepts are easily applied to Western foods.


—By Jo Marshall, a food writer in Deephaven, Minn.