What's Really In Chinese Five-Spice Powder?

The iconic Chinese five-spice powder may be one of the most fragrant and delicious spice blends in your pantry. Originating from both Chinese and Taiwanese cultures, according to The Spruce Eats, Chinese five-spice is rumored to have been developed medicinally, to balance yin and yang with its cool and warm flavors. Accenting everything from chicken and pork loin to braised brisket, Chinese five-spice makes a great rub, marinade, or seasoning topping.

Since The New York Times recommends blending spices at home to ensure they're potent in flavor and fragrance, you may want to learn what actually goes into Chinese five-spice. While the name suggests using only five different spices to create this authentic blend, the traditional way to create Chinese five-spice involves slight tweaks and variations that hail from different regions throughout China. There are plenty of good ways to amplify flavor and make something more interesting and personal than what you might find at a local grocery store.

The spices of the Chinese five-spice

According to The New York Times, the traditional Chinese five-spice blend is made from an equal mixture of cinnamon, cloves, fennel seeds, star anise, and peppercorns, which can either be white or Sichuan. This blend has a ton of depth: Cinnamon is a sweetening agent with a slightly spicy undertone; Sichuan peppercorn is slightly spicy, numbing, and tingly; and the cloves and fennel add another hit of sweetness, contrasting with the more bitter, licorice flavor of star anise.

While it may sound straightforward, there are a few caveats to ensure you maximize the flavor of this tasteful blend. First and foremost, do not substitute black peppercorn for the Sichuan peppercorn — they're very different flavors. If you can't find Sichuan peppercorn, white peppercorn will also work, according to The Woks of Life. If you want to alternate your recipe to follow a more traditional style from southern China, swap orange peels for cloves and use Saigon cinnamon instead (via The Spruce Eats).

Whether you're making the spice blend at home or buying from the store, make sure you have the right ingredients for the perfect merriment of flavor.