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Chinese Five Spice is a unique spice blend that’s been around for over 3,000 years. Though its exact origins are unknown, it’s believed that the Chinese were trying to create a “wonder powder” which incorporated all five tastes of Chinese cuisine – salty, sweet, sour, bitter, and spicy.
The number 5 has significance in Chinese food culture and in ancient medicinal texts. It was proposed that while nature was made up of five elements – wood, fire, water, earth, and metal – the human body needed five flavours to thrive as well. This highly aromatic spice epitomizes the flavour profile that’s so fundamental in Chinese cuisine.
Its creators believed the blend would help balance one’s yin and yang. In Asian philosophy, yin and yang refers to the way that opposites in nature are both connected and complimentary to one another.
Though the blend can vary, Chinese Five Spice powder often contains cloves, star anise, fennel, cinnamon, and sometimes Sichuan pepper is included in the mix for its famous mouth-numbing heat. And remember, the blend didn’t get its name from the number of spices it contains, but from the five principal Chinese flavours it creates! Other blends - like ours - throw in ginger for even more depth.
So, what does it taste like? Well, Chinese Five Spice is sweet and warm thanks to the anise and cinnamon, but it’s also cool and deep because of the fennel and cloves.
It’s well-known for its use in Chinese cuisine where it’s often incorporated into daily cooking, but it’s also used in other Asian, Western Indian, and Arabic cuisines as well.
One of its best uses is as a spice rub or marinade for fatty meats like pork, duck, or goose. Chinese Five Spice is integral to any traditional Peking duck recipe. But it can work surprisingly well with lamb, beef, and meatballs too.
Slow cooking and roasting techniques help both meats and vegetables absorb its flavours particularly well. This powerful blend also works wonders in soups, stir-fries, and fried rice. Chinese Five Spice can be used to add depth to curries and braises, and it can prove to be an interesting and unexpected addition to chutneys, cookies, or spice cakes.
Chinese Five Spice is unique and it packs a lot of flavour, so only a touch is needed to transform a dish! This complex blend makes for a unique and versatile staple in your pantry.
Sure you could try your hand at roasting Peking duck if you’re feeling fancy, but why not try a variation on that with a roast Peking chicken as a more approachable alternative? Or even simpler, try it with roasted chicken thighs. Chinese Five Spice will also liven up vegetables like Brussels sprouts or glazed carrots. It’ll help create a festive roasted cashew mix to pass around at parties as well.
The addition of Chinese Five Spice will completely transform the taste of your chicken noodle soup, and you can use it in a multitude of different Asian soups like Vietnamese pho and Taiwanese beef noodles. It also brightens up the flavours of your average weekday stir-fry.
It also works great with those rich meat dishes like Chinese-style sticky pork ribs or the sweet roast pork belly known as char sui. Especially if you’re dying to try your hand at authentic Chinese cuisine, there’s really no substitute for the flavours this spice blend creates!