Chinese Five Spice – How To Use It In Your Cooking

Chinese Five Spice – a symbolic spice

If you’re a foodie, you’ve probably heard of Chinese Five Spice, a flavorful blend of spices that adds an exciting flavor twist to any dish. But if you’ve never tried it before, you might be wondering how to incorporate it into your everyday cooking. Well, you’re in luck because that’s precisely what we’ll be discussing today! Whether you’re looking to add a touch of spice to your stir-fry, add depth of flavor to meats, or want to give your roasted veggies a new flavor profile, Chinese Five Spice is a versatile seasoning that can elevate any dish. In this article, we’ll explore the history of Chinese Five Spice, its unique flavor profile, and how to use it in your everyday cooking. So, get ready to take your taste buds on a journey to the Far East and discover the wonders of Chinese Five Spice!

History & Background

The Chinese five spice blend, also known as “wǔxiāng fěn” (五香粉) in Mandarin, is a popular spice mixture used in Chinese cuisine. Characterized by its unique flavor combination it is made up of five key flavors: sweet, sour, bitter, salty, and pungent. The blend typically includes star anise, cloves, Chinese cinnamon (cassia), Sichuan pepper, and fennel seeds, although there can be regional variations in the ingredients.

The history of Chinese five spice dates back many centuries, and it has been an integral part of Chinese culinary traditions. The exact origins of the blend are unclear, but it is believed to have originated in ancient China, where the use of aromatic spices was highly valued for their medicinal and culinary properties.

In Chinese culture, the number five holds symbolic significance, representing balance and harmony. This concept is reflected in the use of five spices in the blend, which aims to create a harmonious balance of flavors in dishes. Each spice contributes its unique taste profile to the overall flavor composition.

Star anise, with its distinct licorice-like flavor, is often considered the dominant spice in the mixture. It provides a sweet and aromatic note to the blend. Cloves add a warm and slightly bitter taste, while Chinese cinnamon (cassia) contributes a sweet and woody flavor. Sichuan pepper, known for its numbing and tingling sensation, adds a pungent and citrusy element. Finally, fennel seeds provide a subtle sweetness and contribute to the overall aroma.

The use of Chinese five spice varies across different Chinese regional cuisines. It is commonly used in stir-fries, marinades, sauces, and rubs for meats, particularly for roasted or braised dishes. It imparts a complex and well-rounded flavor to a wide range of dishes, elevating the taste and adding depth.

What form does it take?

Chinese five spice typically comes in powdered form. The individual spices, such as star anise, cloves, Chinese cinnamon (cassia), Sichuan pepper, and fennel seeds, are ground into a fine powder and then combined in specific proportions to create the blend. The powdered form makes it easy to incorporate the spice mixture into dishes, as it can be easily sprinkled or added during cooking.

However, it’s worth noting that some people prefer to grind the spices themselves for maximum freshness and flavor. In this case, the whole spices can be toasted lightly to enhance their aroma and flavor before grinding them into a powder. The freshly ground blend can be more potent and aromatic compared to pre-packaged versions.

You can find Chinese five spice in most Asian grocery stores and it is also available in many international supermarkets or online spice retailers. It is typically sold in small jars or plastic bags. Additionally, some brands may offer pre-packaged spice blends, while others allow you to buy each spice separately, enabling you to customize the proportions according to your taste preferences.

Chinese Five Spice Powder by Shanghai

An authentic Chinese blend that includes, cinnamon, fennel, star anise, cloves and white pepper.

Non-GMO, no irradiation, no additives, no preservatives, no fillers.

2 ounce pack – full of aroma and flavor

Is it good for you?

Not only is Chinese Five Spice delicious, but it also has several health benefits. Cinnamon, is one of the main ingredients in the blend, and is known to help regulate blood sugar levels and lower cholesterol. Cloves have anti-inflammatory properties, while fennel seeds are known to aid digestion. Star anise has been used in traditional Chinese medicine to treat various ailments, including coughs and digestive issues. Szechuan peppercorns have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties and are also believed to aid digestion. Here’s a brief overview of the potential health benefits of some key ingredients:

  1. Star Anise: Star anise is rich in antioxidants and contains compounds with potential antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties. It is also a source of certain vitamins and minerals.
  2. Cloves: Cloves are packed with antioxidants and have been traditionally used for their antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory, and analgesic properties. They may also support digestive health and help regulate blood sugar levels.
  3. Chinese Cinnamon (Cassia): Chinese cinnamon, also known as cassia, has been associated with potential health benefits such as improved blood sugar control, anti-inflammatory effects, and antioxidant properties.
  4. Sichuan Pepper: Sichuan pepper contains a compound called hydroxy-alpha-sanshool, which is responsible for its unique numbing and tingling sensation. It may also have antimicrobial properties and could aid in digestion.
  5. Fennel Seeds: Fennel seeds are known for their potential digestive benefits and have been traditionally used to alleviate bloating, indigestion, and other gastrointestinal discomforts.

While these spices individually have some potential health benefits, it’s important to remember that Chinese five spice is typically used in small amounts in recipes. Its overall impact on health would depend on the quantity consumed and the rest of the diet.

Flavor profile of Chinese Five Spice

The flavor profile of Chinese five spice is characterized by a harmonious blend of sweet, sour, bitter, salty, and pungent flavors. Each spice in the mixture contributes its unique taste, resulting in a complex and well-rounded flavor. Here’s a breakdown of the flavor profiles of the individual spices commonly found in Chinese five spice:

  1. Star Anise: Star anise provides a distinct sweet and licorice-like flavor. It has a subtle hint of bitterness and imparts a floral and aromatic note to dishes.
  2. Cloves: Cloves have a warm and spicy taste with a slight bitterness. They add depth and a touch of sweetness to the spice blend.
  3. Chinese Cinnamon (Cassia): Chinese cinnamon, also known as cassia, has a sweet and woody flavor. It is slightly spicy and adds warmth to the overall taste.
  4. Sichuan Pepper: Sichuan pepper is known for its unique tingling and numbing sensation. It has a citrusy and slightly peppery flavor that adds a distinct pungent element to the blend.
  5. Fennel Seeds: Fennel seeds contribute a subtle sweetness with a mild hint of licorice-like flavor. They provide a refreshing and aromatic note to the mixture.

When combined, these spices create a balanced flavor profile that is both complex and harmonious. The sweetness of star anise and fennel seeds, the warmth of cloves and cassia, and the pungency of Sichuan pepper work together to enhance the taste of various dishes, particularly in savory and meat-based preparations.

It’s important to note that the exact proportions of each spice can vary in different recipes and regional variations of the spice. Some variations may include additional spices such as ginger, nutmeg, or cardamom, which can further influence the flavor profile.

Cooking with Chinese Five Spice

Chinese Five Spice be used in a variety of dishes, both savory and sweet. It’s a versatile seasoning that can be used to add a unique flavor profile to a range of ingredients. Here are some ideas for how to use it in your everyday cooking:

  • Add it to stir-fries: Chinese Five Spice is a great way to add a touch of spice to your stir-fry. Simply sprinkle some over your vegetables and protein before cooking to give them a new flavor profile.
  • Use it as a rub: Chinese Five Spice can be used as a rub for meats like chicken, pork, and beef. Mix it with a bit of oil to create a paste, then rub it onto your meat before cooking.
  • Add it to roasted vegetables: Chinese Five Spice can add a unique twist to roasted vegetables like sweet potatoes, carrots, and broccoli. Toss your vegetables with a bit of oil and Chinese Five Spice before roasting for a delicious side dish.
  • Use it in marinades: Chinese Five Spice can also be used in marinades for meats like chicken and pork. Mix it with soy sauce, rice vinegar, and honey for a sweet and savory marinade.
  • Chinese Five Spice recipes – Chicken stir-fry, Spiced pork ribs, and Steamed fish

My kids absolutely love the flavor it gives when I add it to the pork ribs before cooking in the oven, or grilling on the barbeque. So here is my favorite recipe – try it and see for yourself.

Spiced pork ribs


  • – 2 lbs pork ribs
  • – 1 tablespoon Chinese Five Spice
  • – 1 tablespoon brown sugar
  • – 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • – 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • – Salt and pepper to taste

Cooking Instructions:

  • Preheat the oven to 350°F.
  • In a small bowl, mix together the Chinese Five Spice, brown sugar, soy sauce, and vegetable oil. Rub the mixture onto the pork ribs, making sure to coat them evenly.
  • Season with salt and pepper to taste.
  • Place the ribs on a baking sheet and bake for 45-50 minutes, or until the meat is tender and cooked through.
  • Alternatively place them directly onto the barbeque and cook for 40 minutes, turning regularly.
  • Serve hot – and watch them disappear!
Pork spare ribs

Common uses

What are some Chinese five spice uses? While Chinese five spice is primarily known for its culinary uses, it can also find application in non-culinary contexts. Here are a few non-culinary uses for Chinese five spice:

  1. Use Chinese five spice to create fragrant potpourri or homemade air fresheners. Its aromatic blend of spices can add a warm and inviting scent to your home. Combine it with dried flowers, citrus peels, or other aromatic ingredients and place it in a decorative bowl or sachet.
  2. The aromatic properties can be used in aromatherapy to create a soothing and relaxing environment. Add a few drops of essential oil to a diffuser or dilute it in a carrier oil for a massage oil blend.
  3. Incorporate it into homemade beauty products such as scrubs, bath salts, or body oils. Its aromatic qualities can provide a pleasant scent while the individual spices may have potential skin-soothing properties. Ensure proper dilution and patch test before using on the skin.
  4. If you enjoy making your own candles, you can infuse them with the warm and spicy aroma of Chinese five spice. Add the powdered spice blend or a few drops of the essential oil to the melted wax before pouring it into candle molds.
  5. Use Chinese five spice in crafts or pottery to create textured designs or add a unique scent. Mix it with glue or other craft materials to create scented art projects or incorporate it into clay or ceramic work for a pleasant surprise when heated.

It’s important to note that non-culinary uses of Chinese five spice may involve higher concentrations or additional ingredients. If you’re using it in non-culinary applications, be sure to follow proper guidelines. Check any dilution ratios, and safety precautions specific to the intended use.

Alternatives to Chinese Five Spice

If you don’t have Chinese five spice on hand or prefer to explore alternative flavor profiles, there are several spice blends and individual spices that can be used as substitutes. Consider using garam masala or allspice. Or you could create a custom blend of your own.

When using alternative spices or blends, keep in mind that the flavor might differ from the traditional Chinese five spice. Adjust the quantities and taste as you go to achieve the desired flavor balance in your dishes.

Have a look at our substitutes section for ideas on what you can use in place of Chinese Five Spice.


Chinese Five Spice is a flavorful blend of spices that can add an exciting twist to any dish. With its unique flavor profile and versatility, it’s a seasoning that should be in every foodie’s pantry. Whether you’re adding it to a stir-fry, using it as a rub for meats, or incorporating it into a marinade, Chinese Five Spice is sure to elevate your everyday cooking. So, go ahead and give it a try – your taste buds will thank you!