Chinese Food Therapy: Hearty Slow-Cooked Pumpkin Soup Featuring Chinese Pearl Barley (Sweet)

In Guangzhou, I’ve noticed that the local cuisine places a strong emphasis on the importance herbal medicine and harnessing the benefits of medicinal foods, especially with slow cooked soups (congee or 粥 ). Certain foods are believed to have “hot” or “cold” qualities (not necessarily related to the actual temperature of the food or the body) that may make the body more prone to illnesses or certain ailments.  The point of Chinese food therapy is to use foods to create a harmonious balance between “hot” and “cold.” Be it for upset stomach or anti-aging, acne or cancer prevention, hair-loss or weight-loss, there’s a root/berry/seed/etc. out there that addresses it.

Last night I decided to make a sweet slow cooked, porridge-like soup using some left over pumpkin, half a can of sweetened coconut drink and a variety of dried ingredients that are used in Chinese medicine including: adzuki, mung beans, lotus seeds, dried jujubes and Coix seed/Job’s Tears/Chinese pearl barley (read the full post for descriptions and the recipe).

This healthy slow-cooked “superfood” soup is filling and extremely tasty.  Perfect for breakfast, a light snack or really any meal throughout the day.  You’ll feel great knowing that you’re treating yourself with foods known in both traditional and Western medicine for having significant health benefits.

More after the jump…

Health Benefits of the Ingredients

  • Adzuki Bean – (小豆 or 红豆)
    • Known for its restorative properties and dubbed the “weight loss bean,” the adzuki bean is high in protein, fiber, vitamin B and minerals.  With a its naturally high potassium content and low sodium content, the adzuki bean can also help reduce blood pressure and functions as a natural diuretic.
  • Mung Bean – (绿豆)
    • I LOVE mung beans, basically a staple to the Chinese diet.  In Chinese medicine, mung beans are lauded for having the ability to clear “heat” and toxins from the body, balance the skin and improve circulation. Because mung beans are “cooling” in nature, they are believed to clear acne, rashes, cold sores, ulcers and boils.  In Western science, mung beans have also been tied to lowering cholesterol, regulating menopause symptoms and promoting healthy blood sugar levels.  Because they contain protease inhibitors known to slow the replication of certain cancer cells, mung beans may also be effective in preventing cancer and tumor growth (Source).
  • Lotus Seeds– (莲子)
    • Lotus seeds are known for their health benefits in both Western and Chinese medicines.   Studies have shown that the seeds are powerful antioxidants that can counteract inflammation, hypertension and aging.  Evidence also suggests that they may have the ability to help fight certain viruses (Source).  With no sugars and close to five grams of protein per ounce, lotus seeds are a smart snack option and a good source of calcium, iron, thiamine, phosphorus, potassium and manganese.
  • Dried Dates or Jujubes – (红枣)
    • In Eastern medicine, jujubes are believed to alleviate stress and to “posses antifungal, antibacterial, antiulcer, anti-inflammatory, sedative, antispastic, antifertility/contraception, hypotensive and antinephritic, cardiotonic, antioxidant, immunostimulant, and wound healing properties.” Clinical studies have shown that jujubes are effective in treating chronic constipation and neonatal jaundice (the yellowing of the skin and other tissues of babies).
  • Coix Seed or Chinese Pearl Barley– (薏仁)
    • Suspected to be the reason for low cancer rates in Southeast China, the Coix seed is a common ingredient in a wide range of soups, porridges and herbal medicines.  Studies have shown that the Coix seed, more commonly known in the Western world as Job’s Tears/Chinese Pearl Barley (though it’s not really barley), are effective in controlling allergies, lowering cholesterol, treating endocrine disorders, preventing osteoporosis and promoting weight loss (Source).


  • a little more than one tablespoon of mung bean
  • a little more than one tablespoon of adzuki bean
  • one tablespoon of Job’s tears/Croix seed/Chinese pearl barley
  • one cup of peeled and cubed pumpkin
  • a small handful of lotus seeds (you may want to pre-cook these by boiling them in water for about 30 minutes)
  • five pitted dried jujubes halved
  • half a can of sweetened coconut drink or a quarter cup of coconut milk and agave syrup to taste (don’t use honey, it tends to oxidize the mung beans and darken the soup)
  • water

Wash your dry ingredients and combine all the ingredients with at least three cups of water in either a rice cooker with the ability to cook soup/congee or a slow cooker.  Press “start” and wait! (Yields four to six servings)

Serve warm or enjoy cold.  It’s all up to you.  I find that the coconut is more fragrant when the soup is hot.  You could also add in some grated fresh coconut meat for extra texture and added flavor.




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