What Is Five-Spice Powder? And How to Make It

Here, all the basics, including what’s in five spice powder and how to use it.

January 23, 2024
Close up of Chinese five spice powder


Close up of Chinese five spice powder

Photo by: zkruger/Getty Images

zkruger/Getty Images

Related To:

By Clarissa Wei for Food Network Kitchen

Clarissa Wei is a freelance journalist based in Taipei.

What Is Five-Spice Powder?

Five-spice powder is a Chinese all-purpose seasoning blend with flavor that embodies all five tastes – saltiness, sweetness, bitterness, sourness, and savoriness.

Spices In Five-Spice Powder

The five spices are usually a blend of the following:

  1. 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.
  2. Sichuan peppercorn: The dried red berries of the prickly ash tree native to China, this spice has a hot and spicy flavor with citrus overtones.
  3. 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.
  4. Fennel: The flavor is similar to anise, but not as sweet.
  5. Cloves: The unopened buds of evergreen trees that can be found in tropical regions. They are very pungent and sweet.

While the term five-spice implies that there are five spices, the formulation can often include more than that. Sometimes tangerine peels, cardamom, and licorice are added in for extra oomph. There’s no set formulation, but the common denominator is that they are all ingredients that exude warmth and coziness.

“All of them are actually used in Chinese medicine as medicinal ingredients,” says Zoey Xinyi Gong, a traditional Chinese food therapist and cookbook author. “They warm the body and promote digestion. They activate Qi to flow more smoothly and actively. Most of these spices have anti-fungal and anti-bacterial functions too.“

What Is Five-Spice Powder Used For?

Five-spice is most commonly used as a marinade that’s particularly great rubbed over pork and poultry. Usually mixed with other seasonings and condiments, it’s what lends both deep-fried Taiwanese popcorn chicken and Hong Kong char siu pork their sweet and earthy flavor. Jet Tila's recipe for Char Siu is pictured above. The spice mix pairs especially well with fatty meats.

It’s also fantastic for braises and soups. Instead of throwing in whole chunks of spices, a generous sprinkle of five-spice powder usually does the trick. Gong also recommends it for making tea eggs: just simmer some peeled hardboiled eggs and tea leaves in a concoction with water, soy sauce, sugar and five-spice.

close up of a bowl of chinese five spice powder


close up of a bowl of chinese five spice powder

Photo by: zkruger/Getty Images

zkruger/Getty Images

A Recipe for Five-Spice Powder

Recipes really differ depending on preference, but the general rule of thumb is to frontload the star anise and go easy on the cloves.


2 tablespoons ground star anise

1 tablespoon Sichuan peppercorns

1 tablespoon ground Chinese cinnamon

1 tablespoon ground fennel seeds

1/2 teaspoon cloves


Stir all the ingredients together and store in an airtight container until ready for use.

Five-Spice Powder Substitutes

The best replacement for five-spice powder is a spice mix with similar flavor profiles. Garam masala, an Indian spice mix which contains cumin, coriander, cardamon, black pepper, cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg, is a good alternative, though it lacks signature punch of star anise. Allspice, a mixture of clove, black pepper, and cinnamon, is another apt substitute.

For something a bit more simplistic, whole pods of star anise will work just finely.

Next Up

What Is Allspice?

Allspice is just one spice, but it's power-packed with flavor. We’re smashing allspice berries open to find out more.

How to Cook Chinese-Style Hot Pot at Home

Many cities have hot pot restaurants, but it’s cheaper to make hot pot home—and easier to prep than you think.

What Is Hoisin Sauce?

A Chinese cooking expert shares everything you need to know about this staple condiment.

What Is MSG? A Deep Dive Into What It Is, How to Use It and Misconceptions

As its flavor sits on your tongue, it grows and blossoms. It looks like snowflakes. Learn more about this magical ingredient from an expert in Chinese cuisine.

What Is Tamari?

Everything you need to know about soy sauce’s gluten-free cousin.

Tamari vs. Soy Sauce: What's the Difference?

Learn the differences and when to use each one.

What is the Difference Between Chow Mein and Lo Mein?

The difference comes down to the way the noodles are cooked.

What Is Oyster Sauce?

The viscous sauce brings so much flavor to whatever it touches — from stir fries to sauteed vegetables to marinades.

Can You Freeze Tofu?

An expert on Chinese cuisine weighs in.

What Is Curry?

We consult two experts and delve into its complicated history.

More from:

Cooking School

What's New