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Home > Diet & Nutrition > Zhou

Zhou - A Healthy Alternative

By Robert Chu, L.Ac.

Zhou & Chinese NutritionWhat do Gui Zhi Tang (Cinnimon Twig Decoction), Bai Hu Tang (White Tiger Decoction), Li Zhong Wan (Regulate the Middle Pill) and Hua Chong Wan (Dissolve Parasites Pill) have in common?

They are all taken with Zhou.

Zhou is known by many names. In Cantonese, we call it "Jook". In Mandarin, it is referred to as "Zhou" or "Xi Fan". In English, it is typically rendered as "rice porridge", "rice gruel", "rice soup" or "congee".


Zhou is typically prepared with rice, although other grains are or can be used such as Wu Gu Mi (Five Grain Rice). Typically, one uses Sui Mi (broken rice) or Jing Mi, also known as Geng Mi, (long grain rice) to prepare it. Japanese and Taiwanese people use the shorter grain rice, which tends to be stickier. The proportion from rice to water is usually 1 part rice to 6 parts water and it is slow simmered, cooking for a few hours. An alternate means of preparation is to use fresh left over rice and add 4 parts water. This is typically known as "Bai Zhou". When prepared with herbs, usually the herbs a decocted first, and the extract is strained and added into the Zhou. Do not add the dregs to the Zhou. Zhou is neutral and sweet and serves to tonify the middle jiao.


Zhou has three major uses. The first is the most obvious, it is a food staple. Zhou is common as a meal throughout Asia. In Hong Kong, at least one of the five meals is typically Zhou, as it is light and easy to digest. The most common type of Zhou eaten in restauramts is Pi Dan Shao Rou Zhou (Roasted pork and 1000 year salted duck egg), often served with Dim Sum in Cantonese restaurants. Hong Shu Xi Fan (Zhou with Sweet Potato) is also quite common, often served in Taiwanese restaurants, as a bland staple food alone, or with regular dishes. The tonifying function helps complement an herbal formula such as Li Zhong Wan.

The second use of Zhou is for protecting the stomach. When taking harsh, bitter, or cold herbs such as found is Hua Chong Wan or Bai Hu Tang, one takes Zhou on the side or adds the Geng Mi to the decoction.

The third use of Zhou is to induce sweat. Zhang Zhong Jing in his Shang Han Lun advises us to take Gui Zhi Tang with Zhou for inducing the diaphoretic function. In this case, adding slivers of Sheng Jiang and Cong Bai to the Zhou will help induce sweating.

Case Studies

It has been my experience that Zhou is an excellent diet food for it's nutritive value and versatility. I know of 3 cases where Zhou has been used effectively:

    1) As a child, I suffered from a stomach ache after attending a birthday party, eating a lot of junk food and drinking a lot of cold soft drinks. My mother made Zhou with extra Ginger.

    2) Jennifer, 24 years old, aspiring actress. Jennifer had contracted Lime disease and recently underwent surgery to remove her Gall Bladder due to severe choleocystitis. One evening Jennifer suffered from severe muscle spasms and pain in the stomach. She asked me to take her to the local emergency room for treatment. I noted her tongue was pale, with a thick white coat, and her pulse was tight/wiry. I suspected Wind/Cold/Damp. The doctors seemed confused by her condition and sedated her with tranquilizers and muscle relaxants and sent her home. On the way home, I asked her what she ate, and she replied, "Something healthy - a salad." She slept through the night and for breakfast I fed her Zhou with Chicken and extra ginger and scallions. This induces a light sweat and nourished her cold middle jiao, upon which she completely recovered that afternoon. The Zhou, was clearly the best choice of food/medicine for her condition.

    3) My late Grand Aunt, who passed away at 88, ate mostly a "Qing Dan" (Light and Bland) diet. Following a Buddhist diet, she refrained from eating meat on certain days. She never had dairy products or beef, but will eat Chicken, seafood, and pork on certain days. Her daily diet consisted mainly of lightly sautÈed vegetables, Tofu, and Zhou daily. I believe her diet has contributed to her longevity, despite living through the end of the Qing Dynasty, seeing the forming of the Republic of China, leaving during the Cultural Revolution and living in Hong Kong and the U.S. She lived a sedentary life style and smoked cigarettes daily. I have noted that many books on Chinese Geriatrics recommend some form of Zhou.


As my father was a chef, and the art of cooking is a family tradition of mine, I am happy to share have some variations of Zhou:

For Summerheat: Zhou with Bai He (Lily Bulb), Lu Dou (Mung Bean) and Bing Tang (rock sugar). Decoct Zhou with all the ingredients and chill in the refrigerator. Eat often during hot days. Can add Yi Yi Ren, Da Zao, Lian Zi, Chi Xiao Dou if desired or for variation. The above Zhou is very good for moistening the Lungs for athletes, and for moving the intestines in cases of constipation due to summerheat.

Red eyes due to Wind Heat: Zhou with Sliced Chicken and Gou Qi Zi.

Onset of Wind Cold - Zhou with Garlic, Ginger, Scallion and Dan Dou Chi

Spleen Qi Deficiency - Zhou with Shan Yao, Hong Shu

Spleen Qi Deficiency with Blood/Wei Qi Deficiency - Zhou with small amount of Dang Gui and Huang Qi; also for use for postpartum.

Constipation - Blanched, fresh peanuts to lubricate intestines


I hope that you will try Zhou as it is one of the four staples of Chinese food. It is an easy to make, versatile and healthy food. Coupled with Chinese herbs, they can produce amazing results from a wide variety of ailments.

If you would like to learn more on Zhou and try different recipes, please refer to: Chinese Medicated Diet - Publishing House of Shanghai College of TCM, 1988 The Book of Jook by Bob Flaws - Blue Poppy Press

or contact the author at:

Robert Chu, L.Ac.
(626) 445-7769

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