Chinese Five Spice is a robust, sweet and spicy seasoning mix that is often used in Chinese cooking. Make your own Homemade Chinese Five Spice powder for a seasoning mix that is bursting with fresh, authentic flavor!
Have you ever come across a recipe, only to find it calls for Chinese Five Spice powder, which is one of the few seasoning mixes that you didn’t happen to have in your pantry?
Or, maybe you’re like us, and you’ve had a bottle of Chinese 5 Spice in your pantry for years, but never really knew what it was good for.
Better yet, maybe you’ve read the ingredients on a bottle of Chinese Five Spice and wondered why there are more than five ingredients listed.
What’s In Chinese Five Spice Powder?
Chinese Five Spice Powder is a seasoning mix that is considered to be the perfectly balanced combination of the five key flavors in Chinese (and other Asian) cooking: sweet, sour, bitter, salty and spicy.
These flavors are captured by five unique ingredients that make up the blend: cinnamon, cloves, fennel, star anise, and Szechuan peppercorns.
What Are Szechuan Peppercorns?
Szechuan peppercorns (or Sichuan peppercorn) are not actually a true peppercorn at all.
Rather, they are the dried berry of a deciduous prickly ash tree (in the citrus family).
Sichuan peppercorn have a unique aroma and flavor that is floral, slightly citrus-y, and spicy, but in a very different way than we typically think of spice in the West.
When we think of pepper spicy, we tend to think of a mouth-on-fire, bring-me-some-milk kind of heat.
The spiciness of Szechuan pepper is more of a numbing spice.
Think about the tingling feeling if you bite into a fresh piece of ginger root. It’s not a chili heat, but many people do describe ginger as spicy.
Sichuan peppercorn are spicy in a similar way.
They first hit your mouth with floral and citrus notes, then they wash over your tongue with a tingly numbness that isn’t so much of a flavor as a sensation.
What Can I Substitute For Szechuan Peppercorns?
Szechuan peppercorn are incredibly unique, bringing (as we just mentioned) more of a sensation of numbness rather than a flavor. Because of this, there really is no good substitute for Sichuan peppercorns.
This is probably why many store-bought Chinese Five Spice mixes leave the Szechuan peppercorn out of their blend.
Some store mixes try to make up the difference in flavor with black pepper or ginger.
In fact, the first time we tried to make Chinese Five Spice powder we tried using black pepper. But, after we tried a real version of the mix, with Szechuan peppercorns, we realized that black pepper doesn’t come close to capturing the authentic spirit of the mix.
You can typically find Szechuan peppercorns at World Market or at your local Asian grocer.
If you are looking for a substitute for Szechuan peppercorn for your Chinese Five Spice powder, we would suggest just leaving it out. You will still get the general flavor of Chinese Five Spice, you just won’t get the spiciness of the peppercorn.
How To Make Our Chinese Five Spice Recipe
The great thing about making your own Chinese Five Spice powder is that the flavor is far more fresh than anything you will find in jars.
This is because we start with whole spices for our Chinese Five Spice recipe. The whole spices stay much more fresh, and release the fullness of their flavor when they are ground.
To grind the whole cinnamon, star anise, cloves, fennel, and Szechuan peppercorns, we use a small spice grinder, but a coffee grinder (that you use specifically for spices, so you don’t get any residual coffee flavor) would work well too.
What Can I Substitute For Chinese 5 Spice Powder?
Three of the five spices in the Five Spice powder are pretty common pantry spices: cinnamon, cloves, and anise. If you don’t have these spices in their whole version, you’re in luck, because we’ve included ground measures in our Chinese Five Spice recipe below.
If you don’t have fennel and Szechuan peppercorns, we’d suggest leaving them out of the mix, and adding 1/2 tsp of ginger to the mix to round out the flavors.
How To Use Chinese Five Spice
The warm and slightly spicy flavors of Chinese Five Spice make a great addition to a number of dishes!
- Use it as a rub for your favorite meat: like these Asian-Spiced Ribs
- Season a slow cooker pot roast with 5 Spice powder and soy sauce
- Mix it with some molasses or honey to make a sweet glaze for pork or chicken wings
- Use it as a coating for spiced nuts or a party mix
- Add some to your favorite molasses or ginger cookie for a fun twist
- Change up your hard boiled egg routine with Chinese Marbled Tea Eggs
Homemade Chinese Five Spice Powder
- 6 whole star anise (or 2 Tbsp ground anise)
- 1 Tbsp whole Szechuan peppercorn
- 1 Tbsp whole fennel seeds (or 1 Tbsp ground fennel)
- 1 1/2 sticks cinnamon, broken into small pieces (or 2 1/4 tsp ground cinnamon)
- 15 whole cloves (or 3/4 tsp ground cloves)
- Place all the ingredients in a spice grinder, coffee grinder, or food processor and pulse until fine. (Alternately, mix the pre-ground measurements together in a small bowl.)
- Store in an air-tight container.
This is one of the recipes from the early days of Curious Cuisiniere. We’ve updated our pictures since we first shared it, but we’ve left some originals here, in case you’ve found us in the past and are looking for that old, familiar image.