How to Make Five-Spice Powder

Five spice powder in a white bowl and on a wooden spoon

​The Spruce / Julia Hartbeck

  • Total: 13 mins
  • Prep: 10 mins
  • Cook: 3 mins
  • Servings: 48 servings
  • Yield: 1/4 cup

Five-spice powder (五香粉) is a common ingredient in Chinese and Taiwanese cuisine. It encompasses all five tastes—sweet, sour, bitter, salty, and umami—and uses five different spices. This Asian seasoning is a mixture of star anise, cloves, Chinese cinnamon, Sichuan (Szechuan) peppercorns, and fennel seeds, and it's easy to make at home.

The recipe makes about 4 tablespoons of the spice mix—feel free to double or triple the recipe so you have extra on hand for future recipes. Store it in an airtight container for up to a month. While it will not go bad, it will lose its potency over time.

You can use the five-spice powder in many different ways. In Chinese and Taiwanese cooking, it's added to stew meat or poultry, incorporated into marinades, used as a spice rub for roasted foods, and seasons the breading for fried foods. Add this homemade spice mix to your cupboard and you're sure to find lots of uses for it.

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Ingredients

  • 2 teaspoons Sichuan peppercorns
  • 5 to 6 whole star anise
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1 tablespoon ground Chinese cinnamon
  • 1 tablespoon ground fennel seeds

Steps to Make It

  1. Gather the ingredients.

    Ingredients for making five-spice powder
    ​The Spruce / Julia Hartbeck
  2. In a dry skillet or wok, toast the Sichuan peppercorns by shaking the pan over low to medium heat until the aroma of the peppercorns is released. This will take around 3 minutes.

    Toasting Sichuan peppercorns in a dry cast-iron skillet
    ​The Spruce / Julia Hartbeck
  3. Grind the toasted peppercorns and the star anise in a blender, pepper mill, or spice grinder.

    Grinding the toasted peppercorns and star anise
    ​The Spruce / Julia Hartbeck
  4. Pass the blended seasonings through a fine-mesh strainer so you are left with an even consistency.

    Sifting the seasoning through a fine-mesh strainer
    ​The Spruce / Julia Hartbeck
  5. Mix in the ground cloves, ground cinnamon, and ground fennel seeds.

    Combining ground cloves, ground cinnamon, and ground fennel seeds with a spoon
    ​The Spruce / Julia Hartbeck 
  6. Place the mixture back into the blender, mill, or spice grinder and grind the spices until very fine.

    Grinding the seasonings until very fine
    ​The Spruce / Julia Hartbeck
  7. Store in an airtight container and keep in a dark, cool space until use. 

    Five-spice powder in a glass jar and on a spoon
    ​The Spruce / Julia Hartbeck

How to Use

Always use five-spice powder sparingly as it can be quite strong. Several Chinese recipes, including princess chicken and five-spice pork, feature five-spice powder as an ingredient. Not every recipe has to be Asian in nature, though. For instance, the average roasted chicken or glazed carrots take on a whole new life when seasoned with this flavorful mixture.

What Is Chinese Cinnamon?

The most common type of cinnamon found at North American grocery stores is actually cassia, which is also called Chinese cinnamon. In many other countries, it must be labeled "cassia." There are many varieties of true cinnamon that come from a related but different tree. Each has its own flavor profile that will affect the taste of five-spice powder.

Recipe Variations

  • In southern China, five-spice powder usually includes Saigon cinnamon and orange peel instead of the traditional Chinese cinnamon and cloves. If you happen to come across this version, it will taste different compared to this recipe and those from other regions of Asia.
  • Substitute black peppercorns if you don't have Sichuan peppercorns on hand. It won't have the same heat, but it will still taste good.
  • Ground anise can also stand in for star anise. The equivalent of one whole star anise is 1/2 teaspoon of ground anise; use 2 1/2 to 3 teaspoons ground anise for this recipe.
  • Five-spice powder can also include anise seeds, ginger root, nutmeg, turmeric, Amomum villosum pods, cardamom pods, licorice, orange peel, or galangal.

What Is the Difference Between Five-Spice Powder and Garam Masala?

Garam masala is a blend of spices that is as integral to Indian cuisine as the five-spice powder is to Chinese and Taiwanese foods. The two seasonings have cinnamon and cloves in common and roast at least a portion of the whole spices. Garam masala typically uses black peppercorns rather than Sichuan peppercorns and most often includes around 10 spices. For both spice mixes, the actual ingredients can vary by region and family tradition.