Inside the Spice Cabinet: Chinese Five Spice Powder

updated May 3, 2019
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(Image credit: Emma Christensen)

Five spice powder is one of the essential base seasonings for much of Chinese cooking. A little of this pungent mix goes a long way, giving dishes a balanced hit of sweet, savory, bitter, and sour.

What Is Chinese Five-Spice Powder?

Taste: Sweet
Most Popular Use: Meat, vegetables, baked goods

The traditional spices that go into this mix are star anise, Szechuan peppercorns, fennel, cassia, and clove. Cassia is a relative of cinnamon and slightly more bitter. Combined together, these spices create a balance of flavors, heats, and mouth sensations meant to enhance the qualities in the dish without overwhelming it.

You can buy pre-made spice blends, or for guaranteed freshness and the best flavor, try making it yourself. Store the spice blend in an airtight spice jar out of the light. It’s best to make small batches so that the blend is still very fresh when you use it, but the spice blend will also store for several months.

How To Use Chinese-Five Spice Powder

Five-spice powder is a fantastic addition to savory meat dishes, and we often use it in marinades or dry-rubs for beef, duck, and pork. We’ll also add a pinch to vegetable stir fries, rice dishes, and even some baked goods for the unexpected and warming flavors.

Making Your Own Chinese Five-Spice Powder

Makes roughly 1/4 cup

2 whole star anise
2 teaspoons Szechuan peppercorns (or generic peppercorns)
1 teaspoon cloves
1 teaspoon fennel
1 teaspoon coriander seed (optional)
1 cassia or cinnamon stick, broken into a few pieces

In a dry pan over medium heat, toast the anise, peppercorns, cloves, fennel, and coriander (if using) until fragrant. Swirl the pan gently and toss the seeds occasionally to prevent burning. Allow to cool.

Add the seeds and cinnamon sticks to a spice grinder. Grind for twenty seconds until a fine powder is formed. If large pieces remain, grind for another 5 – 10 seconds.

Recipes for Cooking with Chinese Five-Spice Powder