5 spice substitute: 7 options to consider

5 spice substitute
The Chinese 5 spice is a versatile and commonly used ingredient in Asian cuisine, and allspice is a good replacement if 5 spice is absent on your spice rack. On the other hand, be careful never to use za’atar as a substitute because of its overpowering herb and nutty flavor.

What does 5 spice taste like?

Chinese five spice (or simply 5 spice) is a spice blend that bursts with a distinctive flavor: It has some warm, spicy sweetness with notes of licorice. It also brings forth a cooling sensation to a culinary piece. 

You’ll find it a common ingredient in recipes for Asian dishes — particularly Chinese cuisine. 

You can use it as marinades or spice rubs for meats (especially Peking duck) or as a flavor enhancer in soups and delectable servings of fried rice. You can add depth to stews, curries, and braises when you incorporate it into your cooking. 

What is 5 spice made of?

As the name states, this blend of spices comprises five spices:

  • Ground cloves
  • Ground cinnamon (Chinese cinnamon or cassia)
  • Ground fennel seeds
  • Star anise
  • Szechuan or Sichuan peppercorns

They represent the different flavors used in the culinary world: sweet, salty, sour, bitter, and umami (or that intense, savory flavor of a dish).

ClovesCloves are an aromatic spice known for their pungent, sweet flavor. Hints of bitterness and astringency provide a great counterbalance.
CinnamonCinnamon has many varieties, but cassia or Chinese cinnamon is the most common in the US. It’s sweet and aromatic with a spicy undertone. Just like cloves, it has bitter and astringent notes.
Fennel seedsWith a taste like licorice, fennel seeds grace dishes with an earthy, sweet flavor. 
Star aniseSimilar to fennel, star anise has a licorice-like taste but is stronger. Compared to fennel, it’s also sweeter yet less pungent. 
Sichuan peppercornsSichuan pepper has an initially spicy flavor. This peppery taste is responsible for the numbing sensation of the Chinese 5 spice. Afterward, you’ll taste a mixture of anise and ginger that becomes a hot, salty, and citrusy flavor.

If you have authentic Chinese five spice, know that it may also contain anise seeds, Mandarin orange peel, turmeric, cardamom, and nutmeg, among others.

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Is there an alternative to Chinese 5 spice?

Allspice
Allspice

Chefs regard allspice as the best substitute for the Chinese five spice powder. Offering similar flavor notes, it’s the ideal swap if you’re preparing sweet and savory recipes such as grilled or jerk chicken.

Experts recommend starting with a 1:½ ratio as there’s no exact rule when using allspice as a substitute. Refer to the specific recipe you’re following and experiment while cooking until you achieve the flavor you want.

What else can I use instead 5 spice mix?

If you’re a home cook or professional chef who ran out of this ingredient, check out these Chinese 5 spice substitutes.

  1. Garam masala
  2. Star anise
  3. Baharat
  4. Ras el hanout
  5. Fennel seeds and Sichuan peppercorn
  6. Cinnamon and star anise
Garam masalaHas fennel, cloves, cinnamon, black pepper, cardamom, caraway seeds, and mace, use it for stir-frying chicken and vegetables
Star aniseComes with licorice-like flavor, good for seasoning meat or poultry
BaharatAdds sweet, warm notes, suitable for stews, soups, and rice dishes
Ras el hanoutHas turmeric, paprika, coriander seed, mace, nutmeg, allspice, cardamom, cinnamon, and ground ginger, works for meat dishes, stews, and soups
Fennel seeds and Sichuan peppercornOriginal ingredients of 5 spice, add aromatic flavors
Cinnamon and star aniseCinnamon adds sweet flavor, while star anise adds licorice, great combination for meats

1. Garam masala

Garam masala
Garam masala

A staple in Indian cuisine, garam masala literally means “hot spice mixture.” It has fennel, cloves, cinnamon, black pepper, cardamom, caraway seeds, and mace, among others.

Use this as a swap when you’re stir-frying chicken and vegetables. However, because it lacks the flavor notes brought forth by cinnamon, experts recommend adding a pinch of ground cinnamon on top of the 1:1 substitution.

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2. Star anise

Star anise
Star anise

Not to be confused with anise seed, star anise offers a licorice-like flavor and adds warmth to recipes. Since it’s the key ingredient of the 5 spice blend, you can use it as a good substitute. However, since it can be too powerful, so start with half the required amount, then adjust according to your taste preference.

If you’re seasoning meat or poultry, use its ground form. If you’re cooking stews and soups, add three whole pods (in place of a tablespoon of 5 spice). Before serving, make sure to remove the pods.

3. Baharat

Baharat
Baharat

Baharat is the Arabic word for “spice.” If you have this in your pantry, use it to add sweet, warm notes to your culinary creation (most suitable for stews, soups, and rice dishes). This one contains black peppercorns, paprika, coriander, cloves, cinnamon, cumin, nutmeg, and cardamom.

Generally, you can substitute a teaspoon of 5 spice with a teaspoon of Baharat, though some advise starting with a 1:½ ratio first. Also, note that this spice’s bright red color can alter the original appearance of your recipe.

4. Ras el hanout

Ras el hanout
Ras el hanout

Ras el hanout is another Arabic term that translates to “head of the shop.” Common ingredients of this blend include turmeric, paprika, coriander seed, mace, nutmeg, allspice, cardamom, cinnamon, and ground ginger. 

This is the exotic substitute to try if you want to add a complex flavor to your meat dishes, stews, and soups. Begin with a 1:½ ratio. You can add more if it still doesn’t suit your taste buds.

5. Fennel seeds and Sichuan peppercorn

Fennel seeds and Sichuan peppercorn
Fennel seeds and Sichuan peppercorn

Like star anise, Sichuan peppercorns, and fennel seeds are actual components of 5 spice. If you have no 5 spice but have these two, try grinding them together. They will add aromatic flavors and heat to just about any recipe that calls for 5 spice. 

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For every 1 tablespoon of the 5 spice, use ½ tablespoon of Sichuan peppercorns and ½ tablespoon of fennel seeds. If you want your output to taste like the original recipe, make space for star anise in your alternative mix (⅓ of star anise and ⅓ of each of the ingredients mentioned above).

6. Cinnamon and star anise

Cinnamon and star anise
Cinnamon and star anise

Cinnamon is the component of 5 spice that gives dishes a sweet flavor, while star anise adds licorice notes. Use a mixture of these two (equal parts) when seasoning meat or cooking something sweet. Commence with a 1 ½ ratio first and add only when needed.

What not to use instead of Chinese 5 spice mix?

In searching for a Chinese five spice powder substitute, you may encounter some articles that recommend Za’atar

Za’atar is a Middle Eastern spice mixture that contains dried herbs (oregano, thyme, and marjoram), earthy spices (cumin and coriander), sesame seeds, and sumac (responsible for their tanginess). When used, it lends dishes a strong citrusy, and nutty flavor.  

Though it has a fennel-like taste and contains cloves and cinnamon (also present in 5 spice), Za’atar packs an intense herb, nutty, and acidic flavor, which won’t feel like you’ve used 5 spice. If you really want to test it out as a 5 spice substitute, use only one-third of the amount of 5 spice stated in the recipe.

Where can I find 5 spice blend?

You can find this spice mix in the Asian section of local and nationwide grocery stores and specialty gourmet shops. You can also order online (for instance, via Amazon) for more convenience.

How can I make Chinese 5 spice at home?

If you can’t find the best Chinese 5 spice alternative for the specific recipe you’re making, consider making it at home. You’ll need the following:

  • 1 cinnamon stick (or 1 tablespoon of ground cinnamon)
  • 6 whole star anise pods (or 1 tablespoon of its ground form or ½ tablespoon of anise seed powder)
  • 2 tablespoons of fennel seeds (or 1 tablespoon of ground fennel powder)
  • 2 teaspoons of Sichuan peppercorns (You can use a pinch of white pepper as a swap)
  • 1 ½ teaspoon of whole cloves (or 1 ¼ teaspoon ground cloves)

After completing your ingredients, use a spice grinder (or coffee grinder) to turn whole spices into ground spices. Be sure to grind all of them finely, then store them in an airtight container and put them in a cool, dark area. You can toast the spices if you want more intense flavors. 

Randell

Randell loves experimenting in the kitchen (with his family and friends as willing victims). He sees cooking as a great adventure. To enjoy that, he believes this is the recipe: a tad of creativity, a dash of courage, a pinch of humility, and a ton of love.

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