What Is Chinese Five Spice and How Can I Cook With It?

Updated: Jan. 31, 2024

Ever wondered about the complex blend known as Chinese five spice? It's something you should add to your spice rack—here's why.

If you tend to make orange chicken or sesame noodles when you’re craving Chinese food, your spice rack might be without an amazing and versatile ingredient: Chinese five spice.

It’s said that the blend was created to include each of the five fundamental flavors, so there’s something here that’s sweet, salty, bitter, sour and umami—talk about complex! It’s sprinkled on everything from meat to veggies, and can even be incorporated into desserts, like this pumpkin pie.

Read on to learn more about this multi-functional ingredient.

What Is Chinese Five Spice?

It’s a flavorful blend of spices used in traditional cooking. The five components most commonly found in Chinese five spice are star anise (not to be confused with aniseed), cloves, cinnamon, pepper and fennel seeds, though various additions and substitutions are often made.

It’s extremely easy to make at home, especially if you have a spice grinder or mortar and pestle, since everything needs to be ground into a fine powder. Simply measure out the correct ratios of each spice, blend or pound away, and use the resulting powder in any number of dishes.

Psst… You can make all sorts of spice blends at home.

What to Cook with Five Spice

Though Chinese five spice has many uses (including cocktails!), it’s best with roasted meats. For example, these amazing chicken wings team it up with honey and soy sauce for an exotic flavor experience, and this surprising baked ham uses duck sauce to complement the mixture.

As a spice rub, Chinese five spice adds a warmth and complexity that can only be achieved by a blend of ingredients. You can use it on roasted vegetables or to give some flavor to plain rice. It’s also fantastic in cakes and other desserts, as it gives an interesting savory twist to something that’s normally sweet.

It’s time to get to know this flavor-packed combo of delicious spices. It’s easy to make, easier to use and easiest of all to devour! If you’re new to cooking, consider adding some essential spices to your spice cabinet.