Skip to Content

What Is Chinese Five Spice? Tips + Easy Recipe

So, what is Chinese Five Spice, anyway? For starters, it’s a blend of seasonings, not just one. From infusing flavors into diverse dishes like meats and rice dishes, it’s not just for textbook Chinese food—use it in everything from soups, stews, bread, and of course, kung pao chicken!

 We will cover some frequently asked questions and offer an easy, basic recipe for making your own homemade Chinese Five Spice, too.

Chinese Five Spice is a special blend that is both sweet and savory, with a kick from pepper, but isn’t overly “scoville” kind of hot. 

Adding it to your recipe might introduce you to your new favorite dish! You can easily make your own by following this guide, but before we get into that, what is Chinese Five Spice, and what makes it unique?

What is Chinese Five Spice?

Chinese Five Spice is made up of five spices that work together to create a delicious taste that, in tradition, is believed to symbolize the fundamental flavors of Chinese cooking: salty, bitter, aromatic, sweet, and sour.

Chinese culture generally agrees that the five spices achieve a balancing act on the tongue.

What Are the Ingredients in Chinese Five Spice Powder?

This lovely blend of spices includes star anise, cloves, Chinese cinnamon (also called cassia), Sichuan (or Chinese) peppercorns, and fennel seeds. 

The harmony of flavors this mixture of spices gives your taste buds is such a beautiful experience! But do note that some blends have even more in their ingredient list, like orange peel

What Does Chinese Five Spice Taste Like?

The taste of Chinese Five Spice can be unique!

The distinctive taste of five-spice powder comes from star anise, giving it a sweet and earthy flavor, combined with the complementary sweetness of cinnamon and fennel. Cloves add cooling hints, while Szechuan peppercorns bring a numbing and peppery touch.

In a nutshell, Chinese Five Spice is like a flavor roller coaster—it’s sweet, a bit tangy, a touch bitter, and a dash spicy.

The History of Chinese Five Spice

Chinese Five Spice Powder, a traditional element of Chinese cooking, has links to customary medicine. The blend’s balanced flavors tied to the five elements harmonize the mind and body. 

Initially used for healing, it has made its way into diverse cuisines, imparting a tasteful balance of cool and warm sensations.

How Is Chinese Five Spice Used in Cooking?

Five-spice powder, known for its potent flavor, is best used sparingly as a seasoning or meat rub. Its aromatic blend elevates stir-fries and enhances grilled meats when mixed with oil and vinegar for basting. 

Occasionally, I would even add it to all kinds of stir fry sauces, Asian-inspired dips, and more. Try this Kung Pao recipe with any version of Chinese Five Spice. Or even dessert; how about a ginger cake that uses Chinese 5 Spice?

Is Chinese Five Spice Gluten-Free?

Great news for gluten-free eaters! Chinese Five Spice is fat-free, dairy-free, and gluten-free! Always check the labels of store-bought or commercially prepared seasonings before adding to your recipes, however.

Can I Buy Chinese Five Spice in the Grocery Store?

Absolutely! Many grocery stores have a spice aisle where Chinese Five Spice hangs out in a little bottle.

You can also find lots of different brands and blends of Chinese 5 Spice online. Try Walmart.com or Amazon, too.

Can I Make My Own Chinese Five Spice at Home?

Another yes! Making your own Chinese Five Spice at home is completely doable.

Making it yourself would feel like you are creating your own secret recipe. Here’s our formula to make your own Chinese Five Spice at home with basic ground spices and easy steps to get you started. 

Ingredients:

Instructions:

  • Gather all the spices and measure them out precisely.
  • In a small bowl, combine all of the spices. 
  • Mix the spices thoroughly until they’re well combined.
  • Add to a glass spice jar with a tight-fitting lid. Label and date the jar. Keep in a cool, dark pantry away from heat, humidity, and sunlight for the longest shelf life.

See our recipe card below that you can save or print.

How Spicy Is Chinese Five Spice?

Chinese Five Spice isn’t intensely spicy like a hot pepper, as it only carries a mild kick. 

The Sichuan peppercorns in the blend can give a tingling sensation on the tongue. But its beauty is in its depth and how it adds excitement to the overall flavor rather than overwhelming heat. Think of it as a gentle and delightful wake-up call for your palate.

Allspice vs Chinese Five Spice

You might have heard about Allspice and want to know how it compares to Chinese Five Spice. Well, while they do have their similarities, they both have their unique style.

Allspice is a single spice with a name that might make you think it’s a blend of many, but it’s not. If I have to describe its taste, it tastes like a mix of cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg.

Chinese Five Spice, on the other hand, is a blend of five distinct spices. This blend has a complex flavor that’s sweet, tangy, and a little spicy, with a hint of that exciting Sichuan peppercorn tingle.

How To Store Chinese Five Spice

To maintain Chinese Five Spice’s potency and freshness, it’s crucial to store it in a cool, dark place, away from heat, humidity and sunlight. 

Protect its flavor by placing it in an airtight container, effectively sealing in its magic while preventing moisture and air from degrading its qualities. This is best achieved with a glass spice jar with a screw-top lid. Often commercially prepared containers don’t have proper closures, and you are best served to transfer it all to your own container, like this one. 

Additionally, ensure it’s stored away from strongly scented spices or herbs to prevent cross-contamination of aromas. While it might seem tempting, avoid storing Chinese Five Spice in the fridge or freezer, as condensation can set in after you bring it to room temp and that moisture can cause it to get moldy.

By giving this blend the care it deserves, you’ll have it around for a long time, as fresh and potent as possible.

The Shelf Life of Chinese Five Spice

Chinese Five Spice’s flavor is best within the first year of its life. But don’t worry, it doesn’t disappear after a year—it only becomes less potent. Rest assured that it will still add flavor to your recipes, but a little less so as the months and years go by after that initial year. 

If your Chinese five spice blend comes to you in a pouch or bag with a poor-fitting closure (or none at all), transfer all of the spice to a glass jar with a tight-fitting lid. Add a label to the jar with the name and date. Keep your container in a cool, dark place away from heat, humidity and sunlight.

The bottom line

So there you have it, the fantastic world of Chinese Five Spice! This blend of flavors is a delight, where tradition and taste meet to create something unique. You might even find your new favorite dishes! I hope you enjoyed this guide about the magic of Chinese Five Spice and everything you need to know about it.

See our easy recipe below that uses basic ground spices to craft your very own homemade Chinese Five Spice blend. Get more inspiration for a well-rounded recipe that includes toasting and grinding your blend here.

More About Spices

How To Make Basic Chinese Five Spice Blend

How To Make Basic Chinese Five Spice Blend

Learn more about Chinese Five Spice and make your own easy homemade version with these basic instructions.

Ingredients

  • 1 or 2 T ground star anise
  • 1 or 2 T ground cloves
  • 1 or 2 T ground Chinese cinnamon (cassia)
  • 1 or 2 T ground Sichuan peppercorns
  • 1 or 2 T ground fennel seeds

Instructions

  1. Gather all the spices and measure them out precisely.
  2. In a small bowl, combine all of the spices. 
  3. Mix the spices thoroughly until they're well combined.
  4. Add to a glass spice jar with a tight-fitting lid. Label and date the jar. Keep in a cool, dark pantry away from heat, humidity, and sunlight for the longest shelf life.

Notes

Yield: 5 to 10 Tablespoons

You can use Ceylon cinnamon or household ground cinnamon, but use a bit less. You can also try common black peppercorns instead of Szechuan.

Did you make this recipe?

Please leave a comment on the blog or share a photo on Pinterest

Skip to Recipe