Chinese 5-Spice Substitute – 4 Gratifying Replacements

chinese 5-spice substitute

If you’re in pinch, it becomes necessary to substitute one ingredient with another in your recipe. Your search for a good Chinese 5-spice substitute ends here. In this article, I’ve got a list of alternatives worth using.

Warning: Using a different ingredient may slightly alter both the taste and texture of your dish. So choose the right replacement according to the desired flavor of your recipe.

What Is Chinese Five-Spice Powder?

Chinese five-spice powder is a popular ground spice mixture mostly used in Chinese and Vietnamese cooking.

If you have tasted Uyghur cuisines then you know how delicious is the dishes prepared with rightly blended 5-spice powder.

The flavor of this spice mix varies depending on the location as some home chefs may alter the ingredients to suit their taste preferences. However, the Uyghur five-spice powder is the most popular among the many verities; the benchmark 5-spice mix.

Use it in moderation as all the ingredients in it have a strong flavor and aroma that can otherwise overpower your recipe.

Five Chinese Spice Ingredients

The Uyghur traditional five-spice is made of ground cloves, cinnamon, fennel seeds, star anise, and Szechuan pepper.  

The common notion behind the composition of this ground spice mix points to the incorporation of five main flavors. It’s a mixture of key flavors like sour, sweet, salty, pungent, and bitter tastes. On the contrary, there is nothing salty in the traditional five-spice blend. 

The ingredients in the five-spice encompass a balance of main flavors. According to tradition and citations, the balance of flavor in this spice mix is based on the philosophy of yin and yang in culinary art. The five flavors of the spices refer to the five traditional Chinese elements.

Uses

The five-spice is traditionally used in a variety of Chinese and Vietnamese dishes. Nowadays, this spice blend is popular not only in China but also in other national cuisines throughout Asia.

Chinese five-spice can be used for seasoning meats and poultry, in marinades, or spice rubs.

It goes well as a spice-rub for all fatty meat and seafood in red cooking recipes. Unavoidable ingredient in Cantonese roasted duck and a nice addition to beef stew.

The aromatic quality of this spice blend works great for flavoring desserts.

In Vietnamese cooking, it’s used as a marinade for broiled chicken and in bone soups. Five-spice powder mix adds depth and savoriness to both sweet and savory dishes.

Besides cooking, clove and cinnamon in this spice mix have antiseptic and antioxidant capabilities. In Chinese traditional medicines, it is used to cure indigestion.

What’s A Good Chinese 5-Spice Substitute?

While you are making some of the Chinese or Vietnamese dishes you should have Chinese five-spice powder at hand. Even if don’t have it still you can prepare the dish with any of the alternatives to Chinese five-spice powder. Here are some of the possible substitutes:

1. DIY Five-Spice Powder

It isn’t hard to make a five-spice blend. Just combine cinnamon, clove, and Szechuan peppercorns along with anise and fennel. Use a spice or coffee grinder to ground them into a fine powder.

Ingredients

For making 25 grams of five-spice blend use:

  • 6 star anise pods
  • 1 ½ teaspoon whole cloves (or 1 1/4 teaspoon ground)
  • 1 cinnamon stick (3 inches long ) or two tablespoons ground
  • 2 tablespoons fennel seeds
  • 2 teaspoons Szechuan peppercorns ( or sub 3 teaspoons regular peppercorns)

Optional Ingredients

Here are a few optional ingredients you may add to this spice blend:

  • Orange peel (mostly used in spice mix from Southern China)
  • Black pepper (to increase the hotness)
  • Ground ginger (for adding peppery and warm flavor with lemon undertones and pungent aroma)

You can increase or decrease any ingredients according to your taste preferences and the demands of the recipe.

Use the best quality ingredients while making your own 5-spice powder substitute with the best flavor.

2. Garam Masala Plus Star Anise

Is Chinese five-spice the same as garam masala? No.

It was a revelation for me to learn that ‘garam masala’, an Indian spice blend, is almost a replica of Chinese 5-spice powder except for the differences in few minor ingredients.

Both of these spice blends contain fennel, cinnamon, and cloves in common. Garam masala typically uses black peppercorns rather than Sichuan peppercorns, but both these ingredients have identical flavors.

Similarly, garam masala has extra ingredients like caraway seeds and cardamom but doesn’t have anise seeds.

As for a suggestion, while using garam masala as a replacement for 5-spice powder add ground star anise in a proportional amount.

Preferably, use a mixture of ¾ teaspoon garam masala plus ¼ teaspoon ground star anise in place of 1 teaspoon Chinese 5-spice.

3. Star Anise And Cinnamon Blend

The most dominant flavor of 5-spice powder is that of cinnamon and star anise. If you are in pinch, a blend of these two common spices can use as a substitution for a Chinese five-spice blend. It’s a great option, especially, when you don’t have all 5 ingredients in your pantry.

If you aren’t a fan of the bitterness of star anise, you may use allspice instead of it. This is a better option for sweet recipes.

Similarly, in place of cinnamon, it’s possible to use ginger or cassia.

Start using ‘star anise and cinnamon mixture’ in much less quantity than 5-spice powder.

4. Baharat

Baharat is a spice blend that lends Middle Eastern (mostly Lebanese) cooking its distinctive flavor. In Arab cooking, it’s equivalent to what garam masala is to Indian food or five-spice is to Chinese cuisines.

The chief ingredients in it are black pepper, coriander, paprika, cardamom, nutmeg, cumin, cloves, and cinnamon among a few others.

Of course, baharat has more ingredients than five-spice powder and lacks star anise and Szechuan pepper. Even so, they have a similar flavor profile.

When you’ve run out of five-spice powder, baharat is a viable substitute to keep your recipe in good stead. Use it in a 1:1 ratio as a replacement.

The Bottom Line

Chinese five-spice blend is a quintessential part of several Chinese and Vietnamese recipes. If this spice mix is unavailable to you, using the same ingredients you can prepare it at home.

Other options in place of five-spice powder are popular spice blends like garam masala or baharat spice blend. Using a blend of cinnamon and star anise can also be a good replacement for the Chinese five-spice mixture.

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