Congee in autumn has many benefits
WITH autumn coming, it's time to nourish the organs and keep them moist in the cool, dry season. Experts in traditional Chinese medicine suggest congee cooked with various ingredients, from chrysanthemum to chestnuts.
As the season changes and the temperature drops, the body must adjust, and digestive upsets, diarrhea and constipation are common. Foods that are easy to digest and easily absorbed are recommended.
Congee, a rice porridge or gruel made with lots of water, reinforces the digestive system and nourishes other organs. Since it's made with white rice that has been milled, it's quickly converted to energy. Whole grain brown rice with the hulls, though not as popular, is more nutritious and converts to energy more slowly, so there's no spike in sugar levels.
Zhang Zhongjing, a famous TCM doctor in the Han Dynasty (206BC-220AD), attached great importance to the medical benefit of congee in his "Treatise on Colds. Pathogenic and Miscellaneous Diseases." He suggested that eating some hot congee right after taking herbal decoctions like guizhi tang (Ramuli Cinnamomi Decoction) can help reinforce the medical function in promoting sweating and getting the pathogenic energies out together.
"Compendium of Materia Medica," one of the most extensive herbal classic by herbalist Li Shizhen in Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), recommends a big bowl of congee as the best breakfast in all seasons, as taking in grains in the way of congee can help fill the empty stomach tenderly but sufficiently.
Eating congee in the morning can help warm the stomach and nourish organs, providing energy for the day's work, says Qian Hai, professor of Shanghai University of TCM. Other ingredients are frequently added to restore the energy balance and treat weakness and specific conditions.
Ingredients commonly added in the fall include pears, turnips, sesame, white fungus, lily root and chrysanthemum; all are cooling (containing yin, or cold energy) and moistening.
The Yellow Emperor, the legendary founder of TCM and many elements of Chinese culture, is said to have invented congee more than 4,000 years ago by steaming rice and then boiling it. He did that after he invented the cooking pot.
Congee then became part of TCM food therapy. Many Chinese people make certain kinds of congee to achieve certain results and treat minor problems. There's a rhyme about congee that goes: "Add jujubes to congee for perfect skin, add lotus seeds for insomnia, add walnuts to strengthen kidneys and blacken hair, and add reed rhizome to relieve fever."
"Congee provides both nutrition and medicine and is easily absorbed," says Qian, making it a widely used reinforcing therapy for people with weak digestion.
Eating low-calorie congee regularly can decrease the risk of high blood pressure, heart disease and other cardiovascular problems, he says.
He recommends hot reinforcing congee in the morning and congee with different ingredients at night for insomnia.
It's not advised to eat congee three times daily, since it contains less energy than rice of the same weight.
After eating congee people feel full but quickly get hungry again.
Diabetics shouldn't eat too much white rice since it quickly raises the blood sugar.
Sweet cold congee, though tasty, is not recommended for the elderly, children and those suffering "pathogenic cold" (yin energy) problems. Too much cold congee undermines the digestive system.
Congees for autumn
Note: to have any medicinal effect, it must be eaten regularly.
White fungus congee
Ingredients: White fungus (15g), rice (250g)
Preparation: Cook congee together with fungus.
Benefits: White fungus nourishes yin energy, promotes fluid secretion and moisture and reinforces the lungs. It helps relieve coughing, benefits the kidneys and reinforces energy.
Ingredients: Apples (500g), rice (200g), sweeten as needed