The Secret Substitute Ingredient For House-Blend Five Spice

Homemade spice blends have an edge that store-bought just can't compete with. They're fresher, stronger, and customized to the user's taste. Take Tasting Table recipe developer Jennine Rye's House-Blend Five-Spice Powder. Every element of this spice blend is about maximizing the flavor, with four of the five ingredients (clove, cassia bark, star anise, and fennel seeds) ground from whole, toasted spices. But that's not even the most dynamic part of her recipe. The fifth and final ingredient of the blend is an unorthodox departure from standard five-spice blends, imparting an X-factor that can be hard to place. Rye's secret? Instead of using the classic Sichuan peppercorns, she swaps in ground ginger. 

Born of a happy accident, Rye notes that she first incorporated the wild card ingredient because she was out of Sichuan peppercorns and looking for an easy substitution. Ground ginger became her means to an end. To her surprise, the ginger not only fit well into the blend but brought new elements of nuance. So what does ground ginger bring to the five-spice blend? 

The sweet heat of ginger

First off, let's break down how ginger compares to Sichuan pepper. For Rye, ginger still brings the signature spiciness and slight citrus aroma that Sichuan peppercorns add to the five-spice blend. Plus, both are common and ancient Chinese spices, meaning they play well with many of the same flavors and tastes. Yet, she is also quick to point out that ginger lacks the mouth-numbing quality that Sichuan pepper can impart. Ginger has the added bonus of being more accessible than Sichuan pepper, and more readily available at the grocery store. Just make sure you're buying the freshest you can find so that it matches the quality of the other toasted and ground whole spices.  

Overall, Rye finds that while ginger is an excellent replacement for Sichuan, it brings its own sense of balanced flavor, making it a wholly new and unique addition. "I'm also just a huge fan of anything ginger-flavored, so I might be a little bit biased," she admits. If you're a fellow ginger love, try it for yourself and see what you think of Rye's ginger adaptation.