Five spice powder is a spice blend originating in Chinese cuisine, but there is a lot of Chinese influence on Thai cuisine, so five spice powder has become a common ingredient in Thailand as well. It has a unique aroma that you will instantly recognize in some of the most famous Chinese recipes. We typically use it in soups and marinades, but you can use it as a spice rub on any kind of grilled or roasted meat dishes.
If you want to try Thai recipes that use five spice powder, check out this Thai kids' favourite egg and pork belly stew (kai palo) and this terrific side dish, my five spice roasted cauliflower recipe! If you want to try it in Chinese cooking, I recommend starting with the iconic Chinese BBQ pork (char siu).
What spices are in Chinese five spice?
Funny thing about this is that if you were to buy Chinese five-spice powder from a grocery store, sometimes there are only 4 different spices in there and I feel ripped off 😂. My five spice recipe has 6, so I'm being generous here! All this is to say, there is wiggle room, but the first 4 spices on this list are crucial to the flavour and you cannot do without.
- Cinnamon. Ground cinnamon is fine, but cinnamon sticks will also work. This should be the prominent flavour of five spice powder
- Star anise pods. It has a liquorice aroma that can be easily over done, so don't add any more than the recipe calls for!
- Coriander seeds, with a mild citrus aroma. Never buy pre-ground coriander as they lose their aroma very quickly once ground.
- Whole cloves, which has a fragrance reminiscent of orange peel
- Fennel seeds and/or Sichuan peppercorns (also spelled Szechuan peppercorns)
How to Make Five Spice Powder
It's a simple toast-and-blend process. The toasting step is optional but it does make it more aromatic, which is helpful if the five spice powder will not be exposed to high heat in the recipe that calls for it.
- In a dry pan, add all of the whole spices and toast over medium-high heat until the coriander seeds darken slightly and there is smoke coming up from the pan. Pour immediately onto a plate to cool
*If you want to be meticulous you can toast each spice separately to get them all toasted to their optimal state. But for me, this mass toasting is fine.
- Put the spices in a spice grinder, coffee grinder or a mortar and pestle. Add the ground cinnamon and grind into a fine powder.
STORAGE: Pre-ground spices lose their flavour relatively quickly, so store in a well sealed container in a cool, dry and dark place.
Try to use this up within 6 months for best flavour. BUT, before you throw out an old jar, give it a sniff! This particular blend of spices is quite potent, and I've used one older than 6 months that was still fine. So if you smell it and are still getting a relatively strong aroma, go ahead and use it!
What does Chinese five spice taste like?
The prominent flavours of five spice powder is the cinnamon, followed by star anise which has a strong licorice flavor (hence, don't over do it). While cinnamon and cloves might remind you of a pumpkin pie spice mix, everything else bring savory flavors to the party.
Some iconic dishes that you might have had that includes the use of five spice is Chinese BBQ pork (char siu), hoisin sauce, and in the seasoning powder of Taiwanese fried chicken. Once you smell your homemade five spice, you will surely recognize it in things you have had before.
Watch the Video Tutorial!
All my recipes come with step-by-step video tutorials with extra tips not mentioned in the blog post, so make sure you watch the video below to ensure success - and if you enjoy the show, please consider subscribing to my YouTube channel. Thank you!
- 1 Tbsp ground cinnamon
- 2 tsp coriander seeds
- 1 piece star anise
- 20 pieces whole cloves (see note)
- 1 tsp sichuan peppercorns (optional)
- 1 tsp fennel seeds (optional)
* The toasting step is optional, but it will be beneficial especially in soups where the spices will not be exposed to high heat.
- In a dry skillet, add all of the whole spices and toast over medium high heat until the coriander seeds darken slightly and there is smoke coming up from the pan. Pour immediately onto a plate to cool.
- Put the spices in a coffee grinder, spice grinder, or a mortar and pestle. Add the cinnamon and grind into a fine powder. Store in an airtight container in a cool, dry place.
- In the video it says "1 tsp" cloves which is a mistake!