Katie's Healthy Bites: Discover Chinese 5-Spice Powder

Spices are an excellent way to add flavor to any dish without adding unnecessary calories. Chinese five-spice powder is not typically used in American cooking, but if you've never tasted this flavorful spice mix, it's time to give this favorite in Chinese and Vietnamese cuisines a try! Learn what's in the spice blend, and three delicious ways to use it.

Spices are an excellent way to add flavor to any dish without adding unnecessary calories.  Chinese five-spice powder is not typically used in American cooking, but if you've never tasted this flavorful spice mix, it's time to give this favorite in Chinese and Vietnamese cuisines a try!  Learn what's in the spice blend, and four delicious ways to use it.

About Five-Spice Powder

The blend contains hints of five flavors: Sweet, salty, bitter, sour and spicy, which give a dish many flavor dimensions. Its exact origin is unknown, but it is widely used in Chinese and some Vietnamese dishes. Although Chinese five-spice is most commonly used with meat dishes, it also makes a great addition to many vegetable dishes.

What’s In the Mix?
  • Szechuan Pepper: The dried red berries of the prickly ash tree native to China, this spice has a hot and spicy flavor with citrus overtones.
  • Star Anise: The dried, star-shaped fruit of the Chinese magnolia tree. The flavor is similar to anise seeds (although they actually aren’t related), but star anise is more bitter and pungent.
  • Cloves: The unopened buds of evergreen trees that can be found in tropical regions. They are very pungent and sweet.  Use sparingly: A little bit of clove will go a long way!
  • Cinnamon: You're probably familiar with this baking spice, which comes from the bark of small evergreen trees. It is sweet with a spicy undertone.
  • Fennel Seeds: The seeds of fennel, of course! The flavor is similar to anise, but not as sweet.
Make Your Own

There are many variations of Chinese five-spice. If you decide to make your own mixture, you can start with equal parts of each ingredient, adding more or less to customize the blend to your taste buds. Don’t be afraid to play around with it! Each of the different spices within this mixture adds another exciting layer of flavor. Chinese five-spice mixes can be prepared ahead of time and stored in airtight containers for later use.

Recipes to Try:

Katie Cavuto Boyle, MS, RD, is a registered dietitian, personal chef and owner of HealthyBites, LLC. See Katie's full bio »

This post was co-authored by Renee Lauser.
Keep Reading

Next Up

Katie's Healthy Bites: Discovering Achiote

Commonly used in Latin American, Indian and Spanish cuisines, achiote is a seed harvested from the annoto shrub. Earthy, sweet and peppery, this spice not only adds flavor but a deep, reddish color to foods.

Katie's Healthy Bites: Discovering Star Anise

Spices are an important factor in healthy cooking, since they have the power to add abundant flavor without adding calories. Widen your spice-cabinet horizons this week with the unique flavor of star anise. This spice's shape emulates a star with 5-10 pointed tips radiating from a central seed pod. Rust colored with a tough texture, star anise comes from an aromatic evergreen tree. It can be purchase whole or ground and its licorice-like taste, is similar to but more pungent than its anise cousin.

Katie's Healthy Bites: Heirloom Tomatoes

Few can resist taking a bite out of a fresh-picked local tomato, and now that tomato season is in full bloom, heirloom varieties are at their ripest.

Katie's Healthy Bites: Marvelous Mushrooms

We tend to associate nutritious fruits and veggies with bright beautiful colors, but don’t be fooled -- mushrooms are earthy gems that are packed with nutrients.