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 four delicious ways to use it.
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.
- 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.
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.
Katie Cavuto Boyle, MS, RD, is a registered dietitian, personal chef and owner of HealthyBites, LLC. See Katie's full bio »