The classification of medicated diet can be made in accordance with the forms they take, how they are prepared, their ingredients and their functions. This includes both classical preparations suchs as drinks, beverages, soups, stews and cakes, along with more modern forms such as extracts, capsules and powders.
Traditionally, these are used for administering medicine. They are commonly prepared from light, thinly-sliced materials or from aromatic materials containing volatile compounds. They are usually steeped in boiling or warm water.
- Not cooked, but made in a similar way to tea
- Common materials include flowers, leaves, fruits, peels, stems, twigs and roots
- Thinly sliced or crushed
- Can be taken at any time and in any quantity
- Sweet ginger drink; vinegar-soaked ginger drink; green tea and honey drink; ginger and smoked plum tea.
Fresh juices are typically prepared from fruits, leaves, stalks or roots which have been pounded or squeezed. Generally, juices should be consumed directly after preparation, but can be stored for longer, although this requires the juice to be boiled, and then stored in an airtight container once cool. This prevents fermentation of the juice. Usually, juices are consumed as they are, but can also be mixed with water or wine.
Common medicated juices:
- Watermelon and tomato; sugarcane and lotus; water chestnut; honeyed grape and ginger.
Within the classification of medicated diet, soups are perhaps one of the oldest methods for administering medicines. They are well suited to use in medicated diet, and their ingredients can easily be altered.
The main base used for the preparation of soups is water, however, in some cases, other liquids such as spirits or vinegar may be used. Medicinal herbs are usually decocted for a set period of time, and often more than once. After each decoction, the liquid is strained, and then recombined at the end, after having any sediment removed. The resulting liquid can be flavoured with sugar or salt, and taken in combination with medicated foods. It is also common to use medicinal herbal decoctions as the base stock for congee (chinese rice porridge), stews or thicker soups.
- Ginseng and lotus; scallions and rice wine; Chinese rose soup.
These are similar to normal soups but also incorporate eggs, milk, meats or seafoods. They can be eaten as a main meal or as an accompaniment. Functional ingredients tend to be tasty, but bland or neutral in property.
Medicinal herbs and ingredients are easily incorporated into thick soups. If they are edible, they can be placed with the main ingredients. If they are inedible, then then can be placed in a muslin cloth and tied as a bundle, which can then be removed before eating. Alternatively, as described above, a decoction can be made from the medicinal herbal ingredients and used a base for the thick soup.
Common thick soups:
- Sugar and egg white soup; ginger, orange, pepper and fish soup; Chinese yam, milk and mutton soup.
Along with beverages and soups, functional porridge has a long history within the classification of medicated diet, stretching as far back as pre-Qin dynasty times. Traditionally, porridge is usually made from rice, millet, barley, wheat or any other abundant starchy grain. It gains its medicated properties through the addition of further ingredients including meats, vegetables, fruits and Chinese materia medica.
Porridge is an easy dish to prepare, with all edible ingredients including Chinese herbs being cooked together. Any inedible ingredients are normally cooked seperately and the strained liquid is added to the porridge, either at the beginning or the end. It is commonly said that the consumption of porridge is limited only by one’s appetite! The efficacy of porridge will depend on the frequency and amount which is consumed.
Common porridges: Black sesame porridge; walnut and pear porridge; eight-treasure porridge.
Spirits and medicinal spirits have a very long history, with records of them being found inscribed on turtle shells of Shang period. Spirits and alcoholic beverages allow for the extraction of active ingredients from medicines, but also hold their own therapeutic properties. They can help to clear the blood vessels, nourish Spleen Qi, enrich the Stomach and intestines and dispel Cold pathogens. They can also enhance the efficacy of medicines.
In the classification of medicated diet, there are 3 types of spirits:
- Spirits – Alcoholic drinks with regular medicines
- Sweetened Spirits – They have regular medicines plus sugar or very sweet medicines
- Undecanted Spirits – These are like sweetened spirits, but also with the mash or dregs used to make the spirit
Spirits should only really be consumed by those with no disorders of the liver or kidney, and should always be used in moderation.
- Wolfberry spirits; Chinese hawthorn spirits; ginseng spirit.
These are made by concentrating and reducing fruit juices, decoctions from medicinal herbs or infusions of herbal medicines, followed by the addition of honey to create a syrup. Such syrups are nourishing and fortifying.
They are easy to take and require minimal preparation, and can be taken directly or dissolved in hot water. Honey syrups can be made to almost any specification, to suit the needs of the individual.
Due to their nature, they should always be stored in dark, air tight glass jars, in a cool place and out of sunlight.
- Sesame oil syrup; ginger syrup; grape and lotus root syrup.
This is the final main category in the classification of medicated diet, and involves a broad range of ingredients and methods of preparation. As cooked dishes tend to focus more on colour, taste and fragrance, they do not contain much medicine. As such, any medicinal ingredients or materia medica used have very specific functions within the conext of the dish. Most cooked dishes are used for fortification, thus any medicinal ingredients with usually be chosen for this function. All cooked dishes should use only fresh ingredients.
Within the classification of medicated diet, there are some other types of functional food preparations which are used, which include:
- Candies – made from a variety of sugars and containing the powders, juices or extracts of medicinal herbs
- Preserved fruits – made using sugars or honey, and fresh fruits. Usually they are eaten as snacks
- Instant drinks – These are a modern development, which are hugely popular as they are quick to make and conveniant being reconstitued with hot water.