Chinese Five Spice Powder Blend and Recipe

Chinese Five Spice Powder Blend and Recipe

An Intro to Five Spice Powder

If you enjoy Chinese food and eat it often, there's no doubt that you've probably tried dishes that were seasoned with five spice powder. It is a spice blend that contains five distinct spices, and sometimes even more despite its common name. It is a staple in most Chinese kitchens and, if you want to cook authentic Chinese food at home, it definitely should be in your own pantry. You can buy it in Asian grocery stores or, if you'd like to make it at home from scratch, there is a recipe below.

The History of Chinese Five Spice Powder

The history of Chinese five spice powder is rooted deeply in Chinese culinary and cultural traditions. These customs are some of the oldest in the world and have stood the test of time:

  1. How it All Began: The use of spices in Chinese cuisine dates back thousands of years, although nobody can be certain exactly when. At first, the spices were used for medicinal and healing purposes in addition to boosting the flavor of various foods. In fact, Chinese herbal medicine and culinary practices often overlapped and it was believed that many culinary spices also have therapeutic and healing properties.
  2. Evolution of Different Spice Blends: As time went on, Chinese cooks began combining various spices to create complex flavor profiles that complemented different ingredients and various dishes. The idea of using a blend of spices to balance flavors and enhance these dishes became an important part of Chinese culinary culture. This still exists today and that is why Chinese food is unique and distinct.
  3. Traditional Components Used: The specific combinations and composition of Chinese five spice blend has evolved over centuries and can vary by region and individual preference. However, the following generally are the main ingredients in five spice powder: star anise, cloves, Chinese cinnamon (also referred to as cassia), Sichuan peppercorns, and either fennel seeds or Chinese licorice root (they both have a similar flavor profile).
  4. Balance and Symbolism: In Chinese culinary philosophy, the proper balance of flavors, specifically salty, sweet, sour, bitter, and umami, is very important. This is evident in Chinese recipes. The five spices in the blend are believed to harmonize perfectly when they used in cooking, producing  a well-rounded and perfectly balanced flavor. These spices, interestingly, are supposed to represent and correspond to the ancient Chinese philosophy of the five worldly elements, namely wood, fire, earth, metal, and water.
  5. How to Use it: The Chinese five spice blend is very versatile and used in both savory as well as sweet dishes. It adds both depth and complexity to a wide array of dishes, including tofu, vegetables, and stir-fries. It can also be used in marinades, rubs, sauces, and even desserts like cakes and cookies.
  6. Cultural Significance: Beyond its culinary uses, Chinese five spice blend also has cultural importance. It is frequently associated with certain celebrations and festive occasions where dishes that are seasoned with five spice powder are served to represent good luck, wealth and abundance, as well as overall vitality, prowess and strength.

Chinese five spice powder is as popular today as ever and is a staple in Chinese kitchens. It also has been adopted and is now commonly used in other cuisines as well.

What Ingredients are in a Chinese Five Spice Powder Blend?

Chinese five spice powder is a blend of ground up spices. It typically includes five key ingredients, which may vary slightly depending on regional preferences and recipes. It can also, despite its namesake, contain more than five spices. The most common spices include:

  1. Star Anise: This gives the spice blend its most distinctive and unique flavor. It has a strong licorice-like taste as well as aroma.
  2. Cloves: Cloves add a warm sweet, and slightly bitter flavor to the spice mix.
  3. Chinese Cinnamon (often called cassia): This type of cinnamon is different from the more common cinnamon from Sri Lanka (formerly Ceylon), also known as Ceylonese cinnamon. The Chinese version has a stronger flavor and is more spicy.
  4. Sichuan Peppercorns: These are not true peppercorns per say but, rather, the dried husks of the prickly ash tree. They have a unique citrusy, spicy, peppery flavor and a slightly numbing effect on the palate. It is very common in Sichuan (a Chinese region) food.
  5. Fennel Seeds or Chinese Licorice Root: Fennel seeds are commonly used in some variations, providing a mild licorice flavor. In other recipes, Chinese licorice root might be used for a more intense sweetness and herbal note. It all depends on the region and each cook’s preference.

Additional optional ingredients can include anise seeds, dried ginger root, turmeric, nutmeg, galangal, and dried mandarin orange peel. You can create your own unique version depending on your taste preference. Just make sure all the ingredients are dry so that it stores well and for a long time.

Five Spice Blend Recipe


1 cinnamon (cassia) stick, about 3 inches long, or about 2 tablespoons ground cinnamon

5 whole star anise pods

1.5 teaspoons whole cloves

1.5 teaspoons whole Sichuan peppercorns

1.5 tablespoons fennel seeds


Lightly toast all the above ingredients in a pan on low heat for about 3 minutes until fragrant. Alternatively, for more control, you can toast each ingredient separately. Do not burn. Let everything cool to room temperature. Then grind everything into a fine powder using a coffee or spice grinder. Store in an air-tight container and in a cool place.

Enjoy using your five spice powder blend in numerous Chinese dishes and have fun experimenting with it.

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