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Five Spice: Popular Blend of Spices in Chinese Cuisine

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If you enjoy Chinese cuisine you’re probably familiar with five spice powder. But which spices are in five spice exactly?

Five spice powder (五香粉) is a Chinese blend of five spices – cinnamon, cloves, fennel seed, star anise, and Szechuan pepper (although there are some variations with the fifth spice). It’s used extensively in Chinese cuisine, as well as in other Asian cuisines.

Let’s look at what five spice powder is, how it’s used, and how to best cook with it.

Five spice- popular blend of spices in Chinese cuisine

Five spice is a blend of spices used extensively in Chinese cooking, as well as in other Asian cuisines. It is fragrant and full of richness.

But most people don’t know which 5 spices are used in this blend and what they taste like on their own.

Although five spice powder is bottled or sold in sachets, this seasoning blend can be made at home using whole spices.

If you’re looking to add a bit of depth and complexity to your cooking, five spice powder is a great place to start.

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What is five spice powder?

Five-spice powder is a key seasoning ingredient in many Chinese dishes, such as Princess Chicken, Peking Duck, five-spice pork, and spare ribs.

It is also used in other Asian cuisines, such as Vietnamese pho, Thai curries and Filipino asadong baboy.

The spices in five spice powder are all warming spices, and they work together to create a well-rounded, flavorful blend.

The five spices used to make five spice powder seasoning are:

  • Chinese cinnamon
  • fennel
  • star anise
  • cloves
  • Szechuan pepper

An interesting fact about five spice powder is that only four of the spices are core ingredients, and the fifth and final one is up to each person to choose.

So, cinnamon, cloves, fennel seeds, and star anise are the core ingredients of this spice mix, and the Szechuan pepper is the final optional spice.

Most people prefer to add Szechuan pepper to their five spice powder because it adds a unique flavor and aroma.

However, if you don’t have any Szechuan pepper or it’s too spicy, you can always leave it out and substitute it with paprika.

The fifth spice can also be white pepper, ground ginger, or nutmeg.

In addition to being a key ingredient in many meat, rice, and noodle Chinese dishes, five-spice powder is also used in marinades and as a rub for meats.

Did you know star anise is one of the secret ingredients for the perfect flavor of Filipino beef pares

What does five spice mean?

Five spice refers to the fact that this Chinese seasoning blend is made up of 5 different spices.

These spices are typically cinnamon, cloves, fennel seed, star anise, and Szechuan pepper.

Together, they create a well-rounded, flavorful blend that can be used in both sweet and savory dishes.

What does five spice taste like?

Five spice powder has a strong, pungent flavor with hints of sweetness and bitterness. The taste is somewhat similar to pumpkin pie spice, only with a more pronounced savory flavor.

The flavor is similar to licorice – this is attributed to the star anise. The cinnamon gives the blend that classic spicy sweetness.

The fennel has a strong taste, and the cloves have a refreshing flavor. Szechuan peppercorns give the spicy pepper and numbing taste.

Overall, the pungent, savory, and slightly sweet flavor of five spice powder makes it a versatile seasoning that can be used in both sweet and savory dishes.

How to use five spice powder?

Five-spice powder can be fairly potent, so you should always use it cautiously.

Five-spice powder is an ingredient in several Chinese dishes, such as princess chicken and five-spice pork.

Though not every recipe must have an Asian flavor, it pairs well with these dishes.

When seasoned with this tasty mixture, ordinary roasted chicken or glazed carrots, for example, take on a whole new life.

But its uses are truly endless since five spice powder can be used in both sweet and savory dishes.

There are endless ways to use five spice powder in your cooking. Here are a few ideas to get you started:

  • Season roasted chicken, duck, or pork with five spice powder.
  • Use five spice powder as a rub for grilled meats.
  • Add five spice powder to marinades for a flavorful boost.
  • Stir five spice powder into soups or stews.
  • Sprinkle five spice powder over roasted vegetables.
  • Add five spice powder to a simple stir-fry with noodles or rice for a quick and easy flavor boost.

How to cook with five spice powder?

This spice blend is very fragrant, so a little goes a long way. When using five-spice powder, start with a small amount and add more to taste.

It’s best to add the spice blend near the end of cooking, so the flavors don’t become muted. Five spice powder can be used in both sweet and savory dishes.

Keep in mind that five spice powder is typically used sparingly since a little goes a long way in terms of flavor.

If you find that your dish is too spicy, you can always add a bit of sweetness to balance it out. A touch of honey or sugar will do the trick.

What’s the origin of Chinese five spice?

It’s believed that Chinese five spice was created and used as a herbal remedy sometime in the 4th century BCE.

The exact origin of this spice blend is unknown, although the spices were used as part of traditional medicine.

The original purpose of Chinese five-spice powder may have been to balance yin and yang. It is believed that the number five has healing properties.

The blend of warming spices was thought to help improve circulation and digestion.

Five spice powder eventually made its way into the kitchens of China and became a staple ingredient in many Chinese dishes.

Where to buy five spice?

Five spice is sold at Chinese grocery stores or other Asian markets. You can also find it online or at some specialty food stores.

When purchasing five spice powder, make sure to check the ingredient list to ensure that you’re getting a quality blend.

Best five spice to buy

Super Brand’s Chinese 5 Spice Powder Five Spice Powder is an authentic Chinese spice blend made of star anise, cloves, cinnamon, Sichuan pepper, and ground fennel.

Super Chinese 5 Spice Powder Five Spice Powder 3 Oz. Asian Seasoning Mixed Spice

(view more images)

The Frontier Five Spice Powder is a Western-style five spice powder, and it contains white pepper instead of Sichuan pepper.

How to store five spice?

Five-spice powder should be kept in an airtight glass container in a cool, dry, and dark location.

As with most powdered spices, its potency will diminish over time.

It is best to purchase it in small quantities and replace it every few months for the highest quality, although it is safe to use for several months after purchase.

Is five spice powder healthy?

Yes, five spice powder is a healthy alternative to salt. It is low in calories and sodium and contains no fat or cholesterol.

Each individual spice in five spice powder has its own unique health benefits. For example, star anise is a good source of antioxidants, and cloves have anti-inflammatory properties.

Cinnamon is known for its ability to regulate blood sugar levels, and Sichuan pepper can help improve digestion.

Overall, five spice powder is a healthy way to add flavor to your dishes.

What’s the difference between five spice powder and garam masala?

Five spice powder is a Chinese blend of spices, while garam masala is an Indian blend of spices. Both blends typically include cinnamon, cloves, and cardamom, but the rest of the spices vary.

Garam masala is usually made with fresher spices, while five spice powder often includes dried spices.

This means that the flavor of garam masala is more complex and nuanced, while five spice powder has a more robust flavor.

What’s the difference between five spice and Chinese thirteen spice?

The five spice blend should not be confused with another Chinese seasoning called “thirteen spice.”

As the name suggests, thirteen spice is a blend of thirteen different spices.

The ingredients in thirteen spice vary, but they typically include Chinese black cardamom, Chinese cinnamon, amomum fruit, tsaoko/cao guo, cloves, nutmeg, star anise, pepper, fennel seeds, angelica, costus root, galangal, sand ginger, and regular ground ginger.

Chinese thirteen spice is used in a similar fashion to five spice powder, and can be used in both sweet and savory dishes.

It’s bolder and more flavorful, though, so use it sparingly if you’re new to cooking with it. As with five spice powder, a little goes a long way with Chinese thirteen and five spice.

What’s the difference between five spice and 7 spice (togarashi)?

Shichimi Togarashi is a Japanese seasoning blend known as seven spice. It is made with a variety of spices, including chili pepper, orange peel, sansho pepper, ginger, seaweed, sesame seeds, and poppy seeds.

Seven spice is hotter than five spice, due to the chili pepper, and it doesn’t have the anise flavor that is characteristic of five spice powder.

Seven spice is used to add flavor to a variety of dishes, including soups, stews, noodles, and grilled meats.

It can also be used as a table condiment. Both five and seven spice are generally used in the same way to flavor

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Is there a substitute for 5 spice powder?

The best substitute for five spice powder is allspice.

Allspice is made from dried, unripe berries of the Pimenta dioica plant and it tastes like a cross between cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg.

It’s not an exact match for five spice powder, but it’s close enough that it can be used as a replacement in most recipes.

Other substitutes for five spice powder include pumpkin pie spice, garam masala, and Chinese thirteen spice.

These have a similar exotic flavor profile as five spice powder, but they’re not an exact match.

What is Chinese cinnamon in five spice powder?

Chinese cinnamon is a type of cinnamon that is native to China. It has a more delicate and less fragrant flavor than the more common Ceylon cinnamon.

So, while it’s not as sweet, it has a spicier and earthier taste.

Another name for Chinese cinnamon is cassia cinnamon or GUÌ PÍ (桂皮).

This type of cinnamon is greyer, thicker, and thus looks more like tree bark than the typical Western cinnamon sticks.


Five spice powder is a Chinese blend of spices that typically includes star anise, cloves, cinnamon, Sichuan pepper, and ground fennel.

It’s used to add flavor to both sweet and savory dishes.

Dishes like five spice pork tenderloin and five-spice shrimp are all popular dishes that feature this fragrant spice blend.

It’s used in all types of Asian foods, though, from soups and stews to marin fades and rubs.

The spice blend is a healthy alternative to salt, and each spice in the blend has its own unique health benefits.

Combine Chinese five-spice with kamaboko in your ramen for the ultimate flavor!

Check out our new cookbook

Bitemybun's family recipes with complete meal planner and recipe guide.

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Joost Nusselder, the founder of Bite My Bun is a content marketer, dad and loves trying out new food with Japanese food at the heart of his passion, and together with his team he's been creating in-depth blog articles since 2016 to help loyal readers with recipes and cooking tips.