Chinese five spice powder uses ranging from using this unique spice blend in meat (usually pork) to vegetables and even dessert!
Since I just shared a recipe for a 5 spice powder home blend, followed by a tau yew bak recipe (pork braised in soy sauce and 5 spice powder), it seems only natural to follow up with a post on how to use 5 spice powder.
After all, it's not one of the most commonly used spices in the kitchen, especially if you like Chinese food, so you may need some inspiration! 🙂 I often do, even though my family has cooked Chinese recipes all my life. (If not my McCormick bottle just hibernates on the spice rack till it's tasteless. Which is why I now make my own homemade 5-spice powder- using star anise, Sichuan peppercorns (Szechuan peppercorns) orange peel (sometimes) etc- instead of buying it from the supermarket- it taste so much more vivid that way too! If you don't have a coffee grinder or spice grinder, you can use a mortar and pestle as I did)
What is it?
5-spice powder is a fine powder ground from spices that are commonly used in almost all branches of Chinese cuisine. (It is also used in Vietnamese and Hawaiian food.) The "5" in "5-spice" actually refers to the 5 Chinese traditional food elements- sweet, bitter, sour, salty, and umami (savoriness)- and not the number of spices in the powder. Hence, some 5-spice powders actually have more than 5 spices in them. In fact, there is even a less-common 13-spice powder in Chinese cooking!
I guess you could say it's a bit like the Asian equivalent of all-spice or a wonder powder?
The whole spices before grinding them to make Chinese 5 spice powder
The most commonly used spices in 5-spice powder are fennel seeds (xiǎohuíxiāng 小茴香), star anise (bājiǎo 八角), cassia cinnamon sticks (ròuguì 肉桂 also known as Chinese cinnamon and not to be confused with Ceylon cinnamon/ true cinnamon), Sichuan pepper (huājiāo 花椒) and a little bit of whole cloves (dīngxiāng 丁香- this spice can be overpowering so needs to be used in moderation. It's also expensive.)
However, it is not unheard of to use ginger root, sand ginger, nutmeg, turmeric. anise seed. cardamomum, tangerine peel, galangal and licorice in this Asian spice recipe. Adding a bit of black pepper can also give the woodier a slightly spicy flavor.
Note: don't use too much cassia in your cooking as it can be bad for you.
What does it taste like
It has a complex flavor and unique aroma- some people describe it as a lemony flavor with the taste of licorice. Since every recipe uses a different blend of ingredients, no 2 5-spice powders taste exactly the same.
Either way, these ground spices are a great addition to your spice cabinet- you can use it in dry rubs for seasoning meats (think Peking duck) or even to fry rice!
Where to buy
You can get the most of the whole spices or the actual 5-spice powder in almost any grocery store, as it's quite a mainstream ingredient today. The only exception may be Sichuan peppercorns. If you can't find it, just go online or head to the closest Asian market.
Like most spices, 5 spice powder doesn't expire or go bad so to speak if kept dry in an airtight container. (If stored improperly or if it gets wet etc, it may go moldy- in that case, toss and don't use!) However, as time goes by, the powder will start losing flavour.
This happens quite quickly which is why I advocate keeping the whole spices instead (these keep their fragrance for a longer time) then grinding to produce homemade 5-spice powder whenever you need it.
- Toast the whole spices in a dry skillet before blending them to release the essential oils & make the aromatic spice blend even more fragrant.
Try substituting Chinese five spice powder with its constituent spices i.e. a pinch of ground cassia, ground star anise, ground cloves, ground black pepper, ground fennel, ground Sichuan peppercorns, ground dried tangerine orange peel, ground turmeric etc (Fun fact: 5 spice powder sometimes has more than 5 spices in it, hence the long list here!)
Asian Meat recipes
5 spice powder is often used in Asian meat dishes, such as bak kwa (a pork 5 spice powder is often used in Asian cooking to season meat dishes, such as bak kwa (a pork jerky that is especially popular during Chinese New Year. If you end up buying or making too much of it, here are some ways to use up leftover bak kwa jerky.)
You can also use it as part of a spice rub- as you can see from the recipes below, 5-spice powder goes really well with pork!
If you don't have the 2.5 hours that the above recipe calls for, try this easy and "quick" version (done in 50 minutes):
Asian Vegan recipes
5 spice powder is most traditionally used with meat- especially pork- so I specifically decided to include a vegan section for this list!
Definitely the most intriguing 5 spice powder recipes that I came across were the chocolate and 5 spice powder ones. I've only included 1- the chocolate rolls below- as it seems that you can just use the same 5 spice powder-chocolate proportions in your other dessert recipes and experiment from there! Have you eaten any 5 spice powder desserts before?
PS If you're not a chocolate fan, Gary Jones (who works with Raymond Blanc) has kindly shared a mulled wine, fruits and ice cream recipe that uses 5 spice powder, courtesy of the Great British Chefs website. I've also heard of people adding a pinch to their pumpkin pie- next Thanksgiving dessert, perhaps?
Which of these ways to use five-spice powder is your favourite?
Before you go, you may also like these Asian recipes: