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Chinese Five Spice Substitute


You may think it’s challenging to find Chinese five spice substitute options. However, there are quite a few solutions that you can choose when hunting for a replacement. The list of twelve alternatives below will provide an ample selection to choose from.

small wooden spoon filled with bright red-orange powdered spice with small glass bottle nearby labeled "five spice"

What Is Chinese five-spice?

The spice blend is named after the five elements connected to Chinese medicine. This connection has encouraged a changing recipe throughout the years, which likely accounts for the multiple versions available throughout China.

This powerful spice offers strong flavor and is used in many dishes like Chinese char siu (barbecued pork), marinades, meat dishes, braised dishes, recipes with seafood.

Chinese 5-spice powder also offers warms and sweetness, you can use it in sweet dishes as well for a more complex flavor. This spice is well-known for the spicy tingling and simultaneous cooling effect when eaten.

What is Chinese 5 spice powder made of?

The powder is made with five main flavors! The base includes four ground spices: ground cinnamon, ground cloves, star anise, and fennel seeds. An additional 5th ingredient that adds to the spice is often Sichuan peppercorns. Some spice mixes include other spices such as ginger root, orange peel, white pepper, black pepper.

Chinese Five-Spice Varieties

In the US there is one type of Chinese five-spice blend available, which only includes five spices mentioned above. Throughout China, there are many varieties available. These varieties change based on the region where you consume the food.

While Chinese 5-spice is a popular blend to keep in one’s kitchen in the US, it is mainly used only by restaurants in China.

Best Chinese five-Spice Substitutes

Star Anise

Since star anise is part of the Chinese 5-spice blend, it works well as five spice powder substitute. This spice offers a similar licorice-like flavor. However, in star anise the licorice taste is much bolder. This replacement provides warmth and sweetness to dishes. It’s best used in small doses since it offers a bitter taste when used too much.

Pros

Star anise is commonly used in Asian recipes, so you can use this swap in all dishes that call for Chinese 5 spice.

Cons

Whole star anise and ground star anise work well for different recipes. Use whole star anise for liquid-based recipes like soups and sauces. Ground star anise is best in sweet dishes and for seasoning meat/poultry.

Cooking Tip:

Start with ½ the required amount and adjust slowly to reach your taste preference.

Ground Fennel Seeds + Sichuan Peppercorns

These two spices are also part of Chinese 5-spice, this combination is an excellent option for replacing the five-spice blend in dishes. Both of the ingredients offer two key flavors. Fennel seeds provide the same licorice flavor found in Chinese 5 spice, while peppercorns offer the familiar heat and tingling effect.

Pros

Use this combination for any savory recipe that calls for Chinese five-spice seasoning.

Cons

Sichuan peppercorns may be challenging to find at the local grocery store. Instead, you can use black peppercorns though the final dish might lack the spiciness.

Cooking Tip:

Combine ground Sichuan peppercorns and ground fennel seeds in equal parts. Then, use this mixture in a 1:1 ratio to replace Chinese five-spice seasoning.

Garam Masala

Garam masala is another excellent option that works as a substitute for Chinese 5 spice. This blend also offers a similar combination of slightly hot hints, sweet and warm flavors. This mixture varies depending on the region it is from. Some mixtures have a closer ingredient list to Chinese five-spice than others.

Pros

This option is the most common replacement for Chinese five-spice, and you can use it in nearly in most recipes.

Cons

When searching for garam masala at the store, you may find it challenging to locate a bottle of it. As the spice blends vary in ingredients, the result will be unpredictable flavorwise. If you use too much, this spice mix can be overpowering.

Cooking Tip:

Start with ½ the required amount and adjust as needed.

Za’atar

Za’atar is a spice blend that is common in Middle Eastern food. It shares a citrusy flavor with the Chinese five-spice blend. However, most spice inclusions are different, creating a strong, nutty taste in recipes.

Pros

Using this spice blend is an excellent option for creating aromatic dishes. You can use za’atar to replace Chinese five-spice powder in marinades and seasoning ground meat. This swap is also a great alternative in dips, sauces, and rice dishes.

Cons

This spice can easily overpower other flavors in recipes, so it’s best to use smaller quantities.

Cooking Tip:

Use 1/3 the required amount when cooking with za’atar.

Baharat

Baharat is another good substitute that you can use to replace Chinese five-spice in recipes. This spice blend shares some of the same ingredients and you can expect a similar warm taste. It also presents a smoky, earthy flavor which will create a noticeable taste difference in recipes.

Pros

This tasty blend works well for seasoning various proteins like beef, pork, and poultry. You can also use Baharat for rice dishes and soups.

Cons

Like garam masala and Chinese five-spice, this spice mixture changes based on the region it’s sourced from. The color of Baharat is a bright red, which will create a different appearance when used in recipes.

Cooking Tip:

Start with ½ the required amount and adjust as needed.

Garam Masala + Star Anise

While garam masala works well as a replacement for Chinese five-spice powder by itself, you can better mimic the licorice flavor by including ground star anise. This blend will add a flavor similar to what the Chinese five-spice mixture offers.

Pros

Use this combination for any recipe that calls for Chinese five-spice.

Cons

You’ll need to source these separately and create a homemade blend as garam masala and star anise are not sold together. It may be challenging to find both in your local store so it’s best to purchase these online before you create your dish.

If you’re in the middle of creating your recipe, it’s best to choose another swap, as you’ll need to order this combination beforehand.

Cooking Tip:

Combine garam masala with ground star anise in a 2:1 ratio. Then, use ¾ teaspoon of this mixture to replace 1 teaspoon of Chinese five-spice.

Allspice

While allspice is a single spice and not a combination of spices like Chinese five-spice, it still offers similar flavor notes in recipes. When using this substitute, expect a sweet, slightly spicy flavor.

This substitute for Chinese five spice is one option that you can use ground or whole (like star anise). Use whole allspice berries for soups and liquid-based recipes. Ground allspice is excellent in marinades and as a seasoning for various proteins.

Pros

Use this swap for sweet and savory dishes. This spice is readily available in grocery stores.

Cons

There is no exact ratio when using this replacement, as it will depend on the recipe you intend to make. This replacement will require some experimentation, so use this replacement when you have additional time to cook.

Cooking Tip:

Start with ½ the required amount and adjust as needed.

Cinnamon + Star Anise

Both of these spices are in Chinese five-spice, so they work well in combination as a replacement. This star anise cinnamon blend will recreate the warmth, licorice taste, and sweetness in Chinese five-spice blends.

Pros

Use this combination to replace Chinese five-spice in nearly any dish, from seasoning meat to sweet recipes.

Cons

Creating the correct flavor combination requires experimentation as it will vary based on personal preference. Start with equal parts cinnamon and ground star anise and adjust as needed. This option is another swap that will require additional time.

Cooking Tip:

Once you have your preferred combination of cinnamon and star anise, start with ½ the required amount. Increase the amount of powder as needed.

Ras El Hanout

Ras el hanout is a good swap for a Chinese five-spice blend when you’re seeking a complex flavor. It contains some of the same ingredients. However, most ras el hanout also includes flowers and exotic spices creating a noticeable flavor difference in dishes.

Pros

Use ras el hanout for soups, stews, marinades, and seasoning for protein.

Cons

This spice blend can be challenging to find in stores, and it’s not easy to recreate at home due to some of the exotic ingredients.

Cooking Tip:

Start with ½ the required amount and add more if needed.

Dill Weed + Cinnamon Sticks

Dillweed and cinnamon sticks might seem like an odd combination to replace Chinese five-spice. However, these ingredients work together to recreate many flavors close to the Chinese five-spice blend. Dillweed offers a citrusy, warm, licorice-like flavor, while cinnamon creates a slight spiciness.

Pros

Both dillweed and cinnamon sticks are readily available in the grocery store. This combination works well with liquid-based recipes like soups, stews, and sauces, as the cinnamon sticks need to soak to provide flavor.

Cons

Using fresh dillweed in recipes creates a more labor-intensive experience as this ingredient needs to be incorporated little by little from start to finish.

Cooking Tip:

Use ½ tablespoon of dillweed + 1 cinnamon stick for every tablespoon of Chinese five-spice.

Fennel + Ginger

This combination creates flavors that mimic the Chinese five spice’s taste well. Fennel adds flavor, while ginger provides warmth and a slight heat. These ingredients are readily available in the spice aisle of the grocery store.

Pros

You can use ground fennel and ground ginger in any recipe that calls for Chinese five-spice.

Cons

Avoid using too much ginger as it can make the dish overly spicy and overpower other flavors. You may need to experiment with this combination to create a taste that appeals to you. Start with the below ratio and adjust as needed.

Cooking Tip:

Combine ½ tablespoon fennel and ¼ tablespoon ginger. Use this combo to replace 1 tablespoon Chinese five-spice.

Homemade Chinese Five Spice Powder

It’s fairly easy to create a homemade version as a replacement. You’ll need to use a spice grinder or similar instrument to create a similar powder consistency. When making a homemade five-spice powder recipe the spices are often toasted before grinding. Keep freshly made Chinese spice in an airtight container to preserve the aroma.

Pros

When creating a homemade version of Chinese five-spice, you can alter the flavor to your preference allowing for a dish that better fits your tastebuds.

Cons

Creating a homemade version adds time and steps to your recipe timeline. Plus, if you don’t have a spice grinder or coffee grinder, you might not be able to replicate this mix at home.

Cooking Tip:

Use a 1:1 ratio for this replacement option.

Frequently Asked Questions

What’s in Chinese 5 Spice?

Five different spices are included in the Chinese 5-spice blend, including cloves, Sichuan peppercorns, star anise, Chinese cinnamon, and fennel seeds. This spice combination provides a complex flavor that bodes well with many Chinese recipes.

What’s the Difference Between Allspice vs. Five-Spices?

Five-spice generally contains five (or more spices), while allspice is made from one type of berry, despite what its name insinuates. Allspice offers a peppery, nutty flavor, slightly sweet flavor, while five-spice sweet, warm, peppery, and anise-like taste. As they share some flavor similarities, you can use allspice as a five-spice alternative.

Is Garam Masala the Same as Chinese 5-Spice?

No, garam masala is not the same as Chinese 5-spice. These spice blends are used in different cuisines, though they have a similar flavor. They share fennel, cinnamon, and cloves though the remaining ingredients are different. Garam masala is typically used in northern India, while Chinese 5-spice is used in Chinese recipes.

Summary

Next time you require a Chinese five-spice alternative, reach for one of the above options. Create a homemade version as the top option. If you’re short on time and can find garam masala in stores, use it in combination with star anise for the next closest replacement flavorwise.

More Ingredient Substitutes

Natalia | Flavorful home
Natalia is a recipe developer, food photographer, and home cook. She started Flavorful Home to document her recipes and share home cooking tips. She loves creating flavorful and nutritious meals while keeping the cooking process simple and joyful!

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