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Five Spice

Common Name

Latin Name Family Country/Origin
Refer to component spice names Refer to component spice names China

Although the origins of five spice (Chinese five spice) are unknown, the mixture is associated with the ancient principles of yin and yang. These principles suggest that the different flavors found within a dish should all work to complement each other. Consequently, Chinese Five Spice attempts to achieve a balance between the five tastes of sweet, sour, bitter, savory and salty.

The main ingredient in most blends is star anise, followed by fennel, cloves, cinnamon and Szechwan pepper. Other commercial blends sometimes include ginger, nutmeg or licorice. Not every recipe uses each ingredient in equal quantities; some will try and highlight one specific flavor over the others. Cassia and anise seed are often used interchangeably for cinnamon and star anise. Each variety will taste slightly different, with one of the five flavors slightly dominating the others.

Five Spice is particularly popular in Cantonese cuisine, but its use has spread all over the world.

Purported Medicinal Qualities*

Due to its complex mixture of potent spices, ground five spice has been called upon to relieve symptoms of many ailments, most notably symptoms of the flu. To fully understand the therapeutic histories of five spice ingredients, visit them individually:

See star anise, fennel, cloves, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, licorice, anise, cassia and Szechwan pepper.

*Always check with your healthcare provider before consuming, inhaling or otherwise ingesting any non-prescription or prescription natural or homeopathic substance or pharmaceutical. is not recommending, suggesting, inferring or otherwise endorsing the use of any herb or spice as a medication.

Culinary/Suggested Use

Five spice is a relatively versatile spice mix that can be added to meat, vegetables, soups, stews, casseroles, etc. If you are making your own mixture, add Szechwan pepper sparingly as it has a mouth numbing effect. As a rule, five spice should be used in smaller quantities, as a little goes a long way.  Food for thought:

  • Make a five spice seasoning by combining salt and five spice. Sprinkle on everything from fries to eggs to popcorn.
  • Sprinkle five spice over stir fried vegetables
  • Mix soy sauce, rice wine, five spice, sesame oil, fish sauce and garlic and use as a marinade
  • Use five spice as a rub for grilled meat
  • Add a dash of five spice to salsa, mayonnaise, plain yogurt or other dips
  • Fattier meats like duck pair well with five spice.

view other A-Z Spices