Have you ever wondered how Asian cuisine has such a distinct and delicious flavor? This is thanks to the Chinese five-spices powder! We love how flavorful this spice is and how it can blend well with many Asian dishes. But we understand it isn’t readily available in grocery stores, sometimes even in Asian specialty supermarkets in the spice section. Not to worry, as you can use these substitutes for Chinese five spice powder and still achieve a similarly delicious dish.
Read on to learn more!
What is 5 spice powder made of?
If you aren’t familiar with the Chinese five-spice powder yet, this is a popular and potent blend of spices you can find in many Asian dishes. (*)
This intense spice was made initially to balance between the yin and yang, or warm and cool. It incorporates five primary flavors: Sweet, salty, sour, bitter, and umami.
In China, most restaurants use it, though it isn’t a household staple. However, spice plays a significant role in Uyghur cuisine.
You can also find it in Vietnamese and Taiwanese cuisine.
There isn’t an exact recipe for the Chinese five-spice blend, as it varies depending on the location and household, with cooks suiting it to their tastebuds.
Usually, it would include main spices like:
- Star anise,
- Fennel seeds,
- Chinese cinnamon, and
- Sichuan peppercorn.
The sweet and warm flavors from the cinnamon and fennel will mix with the licorice flavors from star anise, the woody taste from the cloves, and the spicy, bitter taste from Sichuan peppers. They blend amazingly!
You can find variations of the Chinese five-spice in different regions made of
- Anise seeds,
- Orange pool, and
The 7 Best Chinese Five Spice Substitutes
If you don’t have any Chinese 5-spice at home, there are other substitutes you can use, many of which you can easily find in most supermarkets.
Try any of these alternatives to this versatile spice blend:
1. Star Anise
Star anise is a significant ingredient in Chinese five-spice powder, which offers a warm, sweet, and spicy flavor comparable to clove, anise seed, licorice, and fennel seed.
You can either purchase it in powdered form or whole pods.
We recommend using entire pods in stews, soups, braised dishes, or powdered star anise in baked goods, poultry, or in-ground meat.
We recommend combining star anise in small amounts with nutmeg, cinnamon, ginger, citrus, and onions.
Note that this ingredient only gives a specific flavor to a dish, and you don’t get all the flavors you want from Chinese five-spice powder.
2. Fennel Seeds and Sichuan Peppercorns
Like star anise, fennel seeds have a similar flavor to licorice, which contributes to Chinese 5 spice powder’s distinct taste.
Sichuan peppercorns, or Szechuan peppercorns, are a common ingredient that gives a spicy bite, complementing the sweet taste of fennel seed.
That’s why these two work great together as a Chinese 5 spice replacement. When mixing ground fennel seeds with Szechuan peppercorns, you get the mixture of sweet, bitter, anise, lavender, and citrusy flavors almost similar to Chinese 5 spice.
3. Garam Masala
Garam Masala is a mix of ground spices, which you can mainly find in Indian cuisine. It can be used as a paste or powder, mixed with water, coconut milk, vinegar, or its own.
If you plan to use it as a Chinese 5 spice alternative, we recommend adding other seasonings to improve its flavor.
The essential ingredients you can find in garam masala are black pepper, cumin, coriander, clove, cardamom, cinnamon, and nutmeg. But like Chinese 5 spice powder, there are many variations of the spice blend depending on the region and the dish made.
Other variations of garam masala may include mace, garlic, ginger, saffron, bay leaves, turmeric, fennel seeds, star anise, mustard seeds, dried red chilies, tamarind, or fenugreek.
This is a common cooking ingredient as it provides a sweet and warm floral taste to food yet still has a tiny hot kick.
When using garam masala as a Chinese 5 spice alternative, add half the amount needed first and work your way up.
Expect a slightly different flavor as garam masala may not taste sweet anise from fennel seeds or star anise.
Baharat is translated to “spices” in Arabic. This is one of the standard spice blends you’ll find in Middle Eastern cuisine, also known as the 7 spice mixture.
Baharat contains cumin, coriander, cinnamon, cloves, cardamom, black pepper, nutmeg, and paprika. But the exact ingredients vary per region so that you may find other spice mixes, including mint, sumac, turmeric, saffron, chili peppers, and even rosebuds!
We recommend using this as a Chinese five-spice substitute for chicken, beef, lamb, and fish. People also use this on soups, rice, and stews, too.
Baharat’s taste is similar to garam masala, having a warm, sweet, earthy, and smoky flavor.
We suggest adding small amounts of it first and continue adding as you go, only as needed until you get a similar taste to the Chinese 5 spices.
Allspice is a bit more common in supermarkets compared to some of the substitutes mentioned above. You probably already have it at home!
Allspice is made of dried berries, which offers a sweet flavor comparable to pepper, cloves, cinnamon, and nutmeg combined.
We use this as a Chinese 5 spice replacement in stews, meats, marinades, soups, desserts, and baked goods.
7. Make A Homemade Five-spice Powder Alternative
Yes, you can make your own Chinese five-spice powder! These are the ingredients:
- 6 whole star anise
- 3 tablespoons of ground cinnamon
- 1 ½ tablespoon of Sichuan peppercorns or whole black peppercorns
- 1/4 teaspoon of ground cloves
- 1 ½ teaspoon fennel seeds
All you need to do is mix all the ingredients in a food processor or coffee grinder until it becomes a fine powder. Then store your homemade five-spice powder in an airtight container and refrigerate it.
What can I do with five-spice powder?
There are various recipes you can follow that use five-spice powder, such as:
- Fried rice
- Cantonese roasted duck
- Beef stew
- Spice rub for chicken, pork, duck, and seafood
- Breading for fried foods
- Bok choy or stir-fried vegetables
- Most southern China dishes or a side dish
And there are so many more!
You can search for a specific recipe and find Chinese dishes to try whipping up yourself online.
Frequently Asked Questions
Here’s more helpful information about Chinese 5 spice powder to help with your cooking:
Wrapping It Up
We hope you found the best Chinese five spice substitutes based on our list. Whether for Chinese cooking or Indian cuisine, try any of these spices for extra flavor.