The 24 solar terms have served as a supplementary calendar that guided agricultural practices in ancient China. In recognition of their cultural significance, China’s “Twenty-Four Solar Terms” were officially inscribed on the UNESCO Representative List of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity in 2016.
In ancient times, people harmonized their lifestyles with the natural rhythms and consumed specific foods during each solar term. This practice not only ensured a sustainable agricultural cycle but also fostered a rich cultural heritage. Despite regional variations in culinary traditions, the essence of this tradition remains a testament to the profound connection between humans and the ever-changing natural world.
In the lunar calendar, the timing of solar terms may vary from year to year. Each season consists of six solar terms, representing the subtle transitions and transformations observed in nature. By exploring the traditional solar-term food menu, we can embark on a sensory journey that allows us to experience the nuanced changes brought about by each solar term.
立春 The Beginning of Spring (1st solar term) Feb.3,4, or 5
Food: Spring Rolls.
Come to the first solar term of the year, known as “Li Chun” or “Beginning of Spring,” a significant culinary tradition takes place. It is customary for people to enjoy spring rolls or spring cakes filled with fresh vegetables. This gastronomic practice, often referred to as “biting into spring,” symbolizes the act of embracing the essence of the season itself. By indulging in these delightful delicacies, individuals pay tribute to the awakening of nature and embrace the revitalizing energy that accompanies the arrival of springtime.
雨水 Rain Water (2nd solar term) Feb.18,19 or 20
Food: Dragon-Beard Cakes.
Come to the second solar term, known as “Rain Water,” which falls on February 18th, 19th, or 20th, a traditional food called dragon-beard cakes holds significance. Legend has it that people consume these cakes to commemorate the Dragon (Tianlong), who was punished and trapped beneath a mountain for compassionately showering rainwater upon drought-stricken peasants. This culinary practice pays homage to the Dragon’s benevolence, serving as a reminder of the power of empathy and the importance of nourishing both the land and its people.
惊蛰 The Waking of Insects （3rd solar term) Mar.5,6, or 7
Food: Fried Chop Rice Cake (驴打滚儿).
Come to the third solar term known as “The Waking of Insects,” a traditional dish called Fried Chop Rice Cake (驴打滚儿) holds significance. It is said that after the chilling winter, insects begin to stir with the arrival of this term. People consume this dish as a symbolic gesture, representing the notion of “Pests perish, fortunes flourish.” By enjoying Fried Chop Rice Cake, individuals metaphorically embrace the transition from winter to spring, expressing the hope for a prosperous and pest-free season ahead.
春分 The Spring Equinox (4th solar term) Mar.20,21 or 22
Food: Spring Vegetables.
Come to the fourth solar term, known as the Spring Equinox, a customary culinary practice involves indulging in spring vegetables. This elegant gastronomic tradition celebrates the balance and harmony between day and night, as the sun’s rays shine directly on the equator, resulting in equal lengths of day and night. By savoring the vibrant flavors and tender textures of spring vegetables, individuals embrace the essence of renewal and the bountiful offerings of the season.
清明 Pure Brightness (5th solar term) Apr.4,5 or 6
Food: Qi Tuan
Come to the fifth solar term, known as Pure Brightness, a customary culinary tradition involves consuming Qi Tuan. According to an ancient Chinese saying, “Eating Qing Tuan before and after Pure Brightness ensures good health throughout the year.” This concise proverb emphasizes the significance of enjoying Qi Tuan, a traditional food item, as a means of promoting well-being and warding off illness.
谷雨 Grain Rain (6th solar term) Apr.19,20 or 21
Food: Scented Cedrela Sprout.
Go to the sixth solar term, known as Grain Rain, a cherished culinary tradition involves partaking in scented cedrela sprouts. This customary practice revolves around the availability of these sprouts in the market both before and after the Grain Rain. Renowned for their mellowness, refreshing qualities, and exceptional nutritional value, scented cedrela sprouts hold a place of honor in gastronomic culture. Poetically described as “tender as silk before the rain,” these sprouts evoke a sense of delicate elegance and refined taste. By savoring scented cedrela sprouts, individuals embrace the graceful transition of the season, delighting in the exquisite flavors and nourishing properties bestowed by this esteemed ingredient.
立夏 the Beginning of Summer (7th solar term) May 5,6 or 7
Food: Duck Eggs.
Come to the seventh solar term known as the Beginning of Summer, a customary practice involves consuming duck eggs. This act is often referred to as “nourishing summer” and is believed to prevent weight loss during the hot season while promoting vitality and vigor. By indulging in duck eggs on this day, individuals aim to maintain their energy levels and embrace the summer months with renewed strength and enthusiasm. This elegant tradition reflects the wisdom of harmonizing one’s diet with the changing seasons, ensuring well-being and resilience throughout the warmer days of the year.
小满 Lesser Fullness of Grain (8th solar term) May 20,21 or 22
Food: Bitter Vegetables.
Come to the eighth solar term known as Lesser Fullness of Grain, a customary dietary practice involves incorporating bitter vegetables into meals. In the month of May, it is traditional to consume more bitter ingredients. Bitter vegetables hold a special significance as they are among the earliest wild greens consumed by the Chinese people. This culinary tradition reflects an appreciation for the diverse flavors and nutritional benefits offered by bitter greens. By embracing the inclusion of bitter vegetables, individuals honor the heritage of foraging and celebrate the richness of nature’s offerings, while also promoting a balanced and varied diet.
From the perspective of Traditional Chinese Medicine, consuming bitter foods during the hot summer months helps to eliminate internal heat from the body.Bitter foods have a cooling effect and aid in reducing excessive heat and inflammation. By incorporating bitter ingredients into our diet, we embrace a natural approach to balance and maintain the body’s internal harmony amidst the heat of summer.
芒种 Grain in Beard (9th solar term) Jun.5,6 or 7
Food: Green Plums.
Come to the ninth solar term, known as Grain in Beard, a customary practice is to consume green plums. As the weather turns hot during this period, green plums offer a refreshing remedy. Abundant in natural high-quality organic acids and minerals, they possess unique nutritional and health benefits such as reducing blood lipids and alleviating fatigue. By enjoying green plums, individuals partake in a culinary tradition that not only provides a cooling effect but also nourishes the body, promoting vitality and well-being.
夏至 The Summer Solstice (10th solar term) Jun.21 or 22
Come to the tenth solar term, known as the Summer Solstice, a customary culinary practice involves consuming noodles. As the longest day of the year, this occasion holds significance in various regions, particularly in the northern areas, where folk noodles are highly popular. There is a well-known saying that captures the essence of this tradition: “Noodles in the summer solstice, and dumplings in the winter solstice.” This elegant adage reflects the cultural wisdom of aligning food choices with the seasons. By partaking in noodles during the Summer Solstice, individuals embrace a nourishing culinary experience that honors the harmony between nature and human life, offering a simple yet profound way to celebrate the changing rhythms of the year.
小暑 Lesser Heat (11th solar term) Jul.6,7 or 8
Food: New Rice
Come tothe eleventh solar term known as Lesser Heat, a customary culinary practice involves consuming new rice. In ancient times, it was a tradition for people to savor freshly harvested rice after the Xiaoshu period. Once the farmers had milled the recently harvested rice, it would be cooked and enjoyed by all. This simple yet meaningful act allowed individuals to appreciate the freshness and quality of the newly harvested grain. By partaking in this ritual, people celebrated the agricultural cycle, paid homage to the efforts of the farmers, and relished in the wholesome flavors of the freshly prepared new rice.
大暑 Greater Heat (12th solar term) Jul.22,23 or 24
Food: Herbel Jelly (仙草).
During the twelfth solar term, known as Greater Heat, a prevalent culinary tradition in many regions of Guangdong involves consuming Herbal Jelly (仙草). It is believed that partaking in Herbal Jelly during the scorching summer months brings numerous benefits. Among the folk, there is a saying that “eating Herbal Jelly in the intense June heat will bestow god-like vitality and eternal youthfulness.” This delicacy, known for its cooling properties, is revered for its refreshing and rejuvenating effects. By indulging in Herbal Jelly, individuals embrace a culinary practice that symbolizes vitality and a quest for enduring youthfulness.
立秋 The Beginning of Autumn(13th solar term)Aug.7,8 or 9
Come to the thirteenth solar term, known as the Beginning of Autumn, a prevalent culinary tradition involves consuming watermelon. This practice is commonly referred to as “biting autumn” and is popular in various regions, including Tianjin. Similar to “biting spring,” consuming watermelon on this day serves to alleviate the summer heat and welcome the arrival of autumn. This refreshing and juicy fruit symbolizes a transition from the sweltering season to the cooler months, offering a delightful way to embrace the changing seasons.
处暑 The End of Heat (14th solar term) Aug.22,23 or 24
During the fourteenth solar term, known as The End of Heat, a customary culinary tradition involves consuming duck. As the summer heat intensifies, there is a popular saying that encapsulates this practice: “Offering ducks during the summer heat ensures a healthy and disease-free household.” This elegant tradition reflects the belief in the nourishing properties of duck meat, which is considered beneficial for the body during this period.
白露 White Dew （15th solar term）Sep.7,8 or 9
During the fifteenth solar term, known as White Dew, a traditional custom involves consuming longan. This practice is commonly referred to as “Bailu must eat longan.” Folklore suggests that eating longan on the day of White Dew possesses a miraculous effect of replenishing the body.
Longan fruit, valued in Traditional Chinese Medicine, offers various health benefits. It is known to nourish the blood, calm the mind, replenish energy, aid digestion, and promote healthy skin. These properties make it a popular choice in herbal remedies and dietary practices.
秋分 the Autumn Equinox (16th solar term) Sep.22,23 or 24
Food: Tang Yuan( sticky rice balls).
During the sixteenth solar term, known as the Autumn Equinox, a customary culinary practice involves consuming tang yuan, also known as sticky rice balls. On this day, farmers traditionally have a holiday and families come together to enjoy these special treats. The glutinous rice balls are cooked without any fillings and are placed on thin bamboo forks along the ridges of outdoor fields. This act is believed to attract birds, particularly finches, to peck at the rice balls instead of damaging the crops. This elegant tradition reflects the reverence for nature and the harmonious coexistence between humans and the environment.
寒露 Cold Dew （17th solar term) Oct.8 or 9
During the seventeenth solar term, known as Cold Dew, a customary culinary practice involves consuming sesame. As the weather transitions from cool to cold, sesame is eaten to nourish the Yin. This elegant tradition reflects the belief in the nourishing properties of sesame seeds, which are considered beneficial for balancing the body’s Yin energy during this period. By incorporating sesame into the diet during Cold Dew, individuals embrace a culinary practice that promotes internal balance and well-being amidst the changing seasons.
霜降 Frost’s Descent (18th solar term) Oct.23 or 24
During the eighteenth solar term, known as Frost’s Descent, a customary culinary practice in the southern region involves consuming persimmons. Folklore suggests that eating persimmons during this period reduces the likelihood of catching colds and experiencing runny noses. This traditional belief signifies the perceived health benefits and immune-boosting properties associated with persimmons.
立冬 The Beginning of Winter (19th solar term) Nov.7 or 8
Food: Chicken Soup
During the nineteenth solar term, known as the Beginning of Winter, a customary culinary practice involves drinking chicken soup to nourish the body during the winter season. This elegant tradition reflects the belief in the warming and nourishing properties of chicken soup, which is considered beneficial for bolstering the immune system and promoting overall well-being during the colder months.
小雪 Lesser Snow (20th solar term) Nov.22 or 23
Come to the twentieth solar term, known as Lesser Snow, a customary culinary tradition involves consuming bacon. There is a saying that encapsulates this practice: “Tonic in winter, fight tigers in spring.” This proverb highlights the importance of nourishing the body during the winter months, as it provides the strength and vigor needed to face challenges and seize opportunities in the coming spring.
大雪 Greater Snow (21st solar term) Dec.6,7 or 8
During the twenty-first solar term, known as Greater Snow, a traditional culinary practice involves consuming lamb. From a perspective rooted in Traditional Chinese Medicine, lamb is considered one of the finest meat ingredients, possessing warming and nourishing properties. It is famously mentioned in the classical work of Chinese medicine, “Shang Han Lun,” in the form of a dish called Dang Gui Lamb Soup. Consuming lamb during the winter season is believed to replenish and store energy, serving as a reserve for the upcoming spring. This elegant tradition reflects the wisdom of utilizing lamb as a means to supplement and fortify the body, fostering warmth, and preparing for the following year’s springtime.
冬至 The Winter Solstice (22nd solar term) Dec.21,22 or 23
During the twenty-second solar term, known as the Winter Solstice, a customary culinary practice involves consuming dumplings. This tradition holds the belief that eating dumplings on the Winter Solstice prevents one’s ears from freezing. This poetic custom symbolizes the importance of keeping warm during the coldest time of the year.
小寒 Lesser Cold (23rd solar term) Jan.5,6 or 7
Food: Laba Congee.
During the twenty-third solar term, known as Lesser Cold, a customary culinary practice involves consuming Laba Congee. Lesser Cold typically falls around the eighth day of the twelfth lunar month. This elegant tradition involves the preparation and consumption of a special congee known as Laba Congee. By partaking in this dish, individuals embrace a culinary ritual that signifies the transition to a colder climate. Laba Congee is often prepared with a variety of ingredients, including grains, beans, nuts, and dried fruits, symbolizing abundance, nourishment, and good fortune. This cherished practice reflects the cultural significance of coming together, expressing gratitude, and enjoying a wholesome and hearty meal during the wintertime.
大寒 Greater Cold (24th solar term) Jan.20 or 21
Food: Rice Cake.
Come to the twenty-fourth solar term, known as Greater Cold, marks the last term of the year.
A customary culinary practice during this period involves consuming rice cakes (nian gao). Rice cakes hold a symbolic meaning of progression and growth, representing the notion of “rising year after year, step by step.” Thus, eating rice cakes during the cold solar term carries this significance. This elegant tradition reflects the aspiration for continuous improvement and advancement as the year comes to a close.