Jump To Section
What Is Chinese Five-Spice?
Chinese five-spice powder is an invaluable spice blend in Chinese cooking that hits on the full range of flavors: sweet, sour, bitter, salty, and umami. It’s prevalent throughout Chinese and Taiwanese cuisine thanks to its ability to coax deep flavor out of just about every ingredient.
What Is the Origin of Chinese Five Spice?
While the exact origins of five-spice powder are unknown today, the perfectly calibrated balance of the blend has led many to speculate it was a result of the search in the fourth century BCE China for a so-called “wonder powder” that synthesized each flavor—but then again, like the invention of many brilliant culinary staples, it could have been an entirely happy accident. Either way, it’s long been a staple across the Asian diaspora, with roots in Hawaiian and Vietnamese cuisine as well.
What Ingredients Are in Chinese Five Spice?
Just like garam masala in Indian cuisine, most spice blends are not always perfect facsimiles of one another. The most common ingredients in Chinese five-spice blends you’ll find in grocery stores are:
- Star anise
- Specific varieties of ground cinnamon
- Szechuan peppercorn
- Fennel seed
Depending on where you are and the preferences of the cook, you might find additions (or swaps) like ginger root, licorice, nutmeg, cumin, cardamom, dried orange peel, cassia, turmeric, and galangal. Seek out an Asian grocery store and compare the blends you find there.
How to Use Chinese Five-Spice
Chinese five-spice is used across all regional Chinese cuisines, in dishes like stir-fry, rich stews, marinades, and roasted meats. Peking duck gets its signature savory tang and brilliant color from Chinese five-spice.
Chinese five-spice powder translates exceptionally well into dishes outside traditional Chinese recipes:
- Chinese five-spice makes a great spice rub for poultry, pork, and seafood
- Add Chinese five-spice to the batter for a next-level fried chicken or shrimp.
- Chinese five-spice is a particularly good match for fattier meats like pork, duck, and goose, where its combined forces work to prevent richer textures from overwhelming the palate.
- Toss Chinese five-spice with toasted nuts for a goes-with-everything bar snack, or before roasting vegetables like sweet potatoes for a spicy-smoky-sweet spin.
4 Tips for Making Your Own Chinese Five Spice
- If you have trouble finding Szechuan peppercorn, black peppercorns can be used as a substitute.
- Ground anise powder can stand in for the whole anise seed, and so can ground cloves instead of whole.
- When using ground spices instead of whole spices, just remember to scale back the amount you used to account for the strength of ground spices; for example, start with ¼ teaspoon ground cloves and taste before increasing.
- Use whole spices when you can to ensure freshness, and store in an airtight container.
Gordon Ramsay’s Five-Spice Powder Recipe
- 2 tablespoons star anise seeds
- 2 tablespoons cinnamon
- ½ tablespoon fennel seed
- 1 teaspoon cloves, whole
- ½ tablespoon Szechuan peppercorn
- 2 tablespoons kosher salt
- Lightly toast each spice individually in a sauté pan on medium heat, or on a sheet tray in an oven at 375°F for 4 to 8 minutes or until each spice is fragrant and lightly golden-colored.
- Remove from heat and let the spice cool completely. Crush each spice in a mortar and pestle, spice grinder (even a coffee grinder will do!) to a medium-fine consistency and mix with salt.
Become a better chef with the MasterClass Annual Membership. Gain access to exclusive video lessons taught by culinary masters, including Gordon Ramsay, Wolfgang Puck, Alice Waters, and more.