What Spices Are in Chinese Five Spice?

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Star anise adds a sweet element to Chinese five spice powder.
Star anise adds a sweet element to Chinese five spice powder. (Image: leungchopan/iStock/Getty Images)

Chinese five spice powder is a simple way to add Chinese flair to dishes. It gives food a complex, sweet flavor without making it spicy and is used in stir-fries with pork, duck, chicken and vegetables. As its name implies, it's made up from five spices, which may be in varying proportions, depending on the spice vendor.

Ground Fennel Seeds

Ground fennel seeds have a floral taste, rather like anise. Ground fennel seeds are rarely used on their own, but are often combined with other spices to create a balance of flavors. Fennel has been used for centuries as a soothing tea.

Sichuan Pepper

Sichuan pepper consists of the dried husks of a berry that grows on an ash tree. It is called a pepper partly due to its resemblance to peppercorns, but also because it does impart slightly peppery, warming notes. It does, also have slightly citrusy undertones, creating a complex flavor.

Cloves

Cloves are traditionally thought of as an ingredient in warming food and drinks -- their pungent, sweet taste works particularly well in mulled wine and roast hams. They give Chinese five spice a genuinely potent sweetness, and allow it to be used in more diverse food combinations. Cloves work particularly well with fruit.

Star Anise

Star anise is regularly used in Chinese cooking, as its concentrated aniseed flavor works particularly well with many of the region's staple dishes. It is the seedpod of an evergreen tree, and its distinctive shape has become a symbol of Eastern cuisine. It adds a powerful anise flavor to Chinese five spice.

Cassia

Cassia, also known as Chinese cinnamon, is made from the bark of a different tree than classic Ceylon cinnamon. It has a similar flavor, but with a slightly bitter aftertaste, and as such works well in conjunction with the cloves and star anise in Chinese five spice to provide balance.

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