Chinese 5 spice powder is a spice mix made with basically 5 ingredients. With just a dash, it imparts layers of warm, bittersweet flavor that transform everything from roast meats to stir-fries. In this post, we will introduce what's in Chinese 5 spices and a homemade recipe as well as a complete guide about how to make it at home.
What is Chinese 5 Spice
Chinese 5 spice powder, also called 5 spice powder, is a seasoning blend used extensively in Chinese cooking from roasting to braised dishes. As the name suggests, it contains 5 different spices that work together to create a unique flavor profile called five aroma flavor (五香 in Chinese).
Origins and History
Chinese 5 spice dates back to ancient China. The early origins are not fully pinpointed, but it became an integral seasoning as far back as the Han Dynasty around 300 AD.
The spices were believed to promote health and well-being. Chinese physicians would mix customized spice formulas for medicinal purposes. Today it remains ubiquitous in Chinese cuisine, used in everything from roast duck to braised dishes and pancakes.
What's in Chinese Five Spice Powder
While there are variations, these 5 spices make up the classic blend:
- Star anise
- Szechuan peppercorns
- Fennel seeds
Each spice contributes its own distinct aroma and taste to balance out the others. But the ratio might be slightly different from brand to brand.
Star anise (八角)- Star anise is a pretty eight-pointed star-shaped spice. Buried within star anise pods is a little pea-size seed. This spice comes from the fruit of the Chinese plant illicium verum. It is a very large tree widely cultivated in Southern China. Grown in China and Japan, star anise has a very specific anise or licorice flavor. The aromatic spice is used mainly in cooking and in many other applications.
Chinese cinnamon stick (桂皮) -Chinese cinnamon, also known as Cinnamomum cassia or Cortex Cassiae, is a species of cinnamon that is native to China. The bark of the Chinese cinnamon tree is used as a spice. Cinnamon sticks (quills) are made from the inner bark of the Chinese cinnamon tree. The bark is harvested from the tree, then the inner bark is peeled off and dried. Chinese cinnamon has a stronger flavor than Ceylon cinnamon, another type of cinnamon.
Sichuan peppercorn (花椒)- The Sichuan peppercorn (Hua Jiao), also known as the Chinese peppercorn, is a type of spice that is native to the Sichuan province of China. The spice gets its name from the fact that it is actually the dried berries of a plant in the prickly ash family. Sichuan peppercorns can create a numbing feeling that can further improve the flavor of hotness. So it is commonly used with chili peppers to create a mala flavor. It also has a strong aroma which can contribute a lot to the five-spice powder blend.
cloves (丁香)-cloves are the unopened flower buds of the evergreen clove tree. These cloves are harvested and dried, then used whole or ground into a powder to add flavor to both sweet and savory dishes. Cloves have a warm, sweet, and slightly bitter taste that can enhance the flavor of many foods.
Fennel seeds (小茴香) - Fennel seeds are the small, dried fruits of the fennel plant. The seeds are oval in shape and have a greenish-brown color. They are often used as a spice or herb, and they have a sweet, licorice-like flavor.
The overall flavor of Chinese 5 spice is warm, bittersweet, and slightly exotic. It has pronounced aromas of anise, cinnamon, and pepper along with nuances of citrus and earthiness.
When used in cooking, it adds intriguing depth without overpowering. The spices meld together during cooking to yield layers of flavor that contrast and complement one another beautifully.
Cooking with Chinese 5 Spice
Chinese 5 spice brings tantalizing aroma and depth of flavor to both savory and sweet dishes. You can use it in the following ways.
- Roasts - Rub on pork, chicken, duck, or beef before roasting.
- Marinades and sauces - Chinese 5 spice can mix well with most of Chinese seasonings including soy sauce, oyster sauce and chili sauce.
- Stir fries - Sprinkle on protein or vegetables while stir-frying.
- Stews and braises - Add to slow-cooked stews, clay pot dishes, and braises.
- Noodles and rice - Season fried rice, lo mein, pad thai, chow mein.
- Vegetables - Toss with roasted sheet pan veggies, glazed carrots, and sautéed greens.
Here are some of our popular recipes showcasing Chinese 5 spices:
- Five spice roasted chicken
- Chinese scallion pancakes
- Chinese braised chicken
- Char siu
- Pork floss
- Chinese tea eggs
The advanced version- 13 Spices Mix (十三香)
Based on the five basic ingredients, other spices might also be added due to different recipes. In fact, there are more than 13 common Chinese spices used in Chinese dishes. You can adjust the amount according to the basic ratio or change certain ingredients accordingly. For example, you certainly reduce the amount of cinnamon if you do not strong cinnamon taste since it might cause some bitterness. That’s why I am always trying to make homemade versions of sauces, spices, and seasonings. We will have control of almost everything.
- 20 g Sichuan Peppercorn
- 20 g star anise
- 10 g fennel seeds
- 10 g cinnamon or cinnamon powder
- 8 g cloves
- Break cinnamon and star anise. And then put the two ingredients in your grinder to ground them to powder.
- Mix with other ingredients and continue grind until all the ingredients are well grounded.
- Filter large particles out; and keep the filtered ground powder mixture in airtighter container until use.
Do not throw away the large particles, you can use them in stewing recipes.
Health Benefits of 5 Spice
The spices in Chinese 5 spice powder provide some great health perks. Here are a few of the benefits:
- Antioxidants - Rich in antioxidants from the cloves, cinnamon, and peppercorns that reduce inflammation and cell damage.
- Anti-microbial - Contains compounds that can inhibit bacteria, yeasts, and molds to help preserve foods.
- Heart health - Active ingredients may improve cholesterol, lower blood pressure, and boost circulation.
- Digestion - Warming spices like cinnamon and ginger aid digestion and relieve gas.
- Immunity - Nutrients help strengthen the immune system to ward off illnesses.
- Respiratory relief - Star anise and cinnamon have been used traditionally to help alleviate coughs and congestion.
Firstly we strongly suggest making smaller batches each time. The spices lot the original flavor very quickly. Store in an airtight container in a cool, dark place away from light and humidity. If you get a larger batch, refrigeration can help extend the freshness of pre-ground blends for up to 1 year.
Most commercial blends do not contain any salt. And there is no salt included in the homemade version too.
No. It is a very mild flavor.
Despite containing peppercorns, true Chinese 5 spice powder is not spicy hot. The Szechuan pepper lends a very light numbing effect rather than heat. For spiciness, chili peppers or flakes need to be added as a separate ingredient.
Is Chinese 5 spice good for grilling?
Yes! The warming spices in 5 spice powder are fantastic on grilled proteins like chicken, pork chops, ribs, shrimp, salmon, and steak. Simply rub on some 5 spices before grilling for extra flavor.
If you use too much Chinese 5 spice powder, the dish might be bitter. So watch out for the amount required for each recipe.
With its intoxicating blend of star anise, cinnamon, fennel, clove, and Szechuan pepper, Chinese 5 spice powder creates depth and savoriness unlike any other seasoning. I hope you love to cook with it no matter in your BBQ parts or marinating for stir-fries.