Five-spice is a flavorful powder that is mostly used in Asian cuisine as an essential ingredient for rubs and marinades. As the name suggests, five-spice is made using five spices: fennel seeds, cloves, star anise, Chinese cinnamon, and Sichuan peppercorn.
However, while five-spice is a unique and delicious ingredient, it can always be replaced by other, similar spices. Actually, if you want a substitute for Chinese five spice, you might be shocked by how many options you have. Let’s find out what those are and how you can use them to improve your dish.
1. Star Anise
Star anise is a popular spice that is known for its spicy, sweet, and warm flavor. In fact, the flavor of star anise is very similar to that of fennel seeds, clove, and licorice. That’s why people use it as a substitute for Chinese five spice. So, when should you use star anise?
Simply put, you can use whole star anise pods to add flavor when cooking stews, soups, and even braised dishes. Just remember to remove them from your pot at the end of cooking. Similarly, powder star anise is perfect for poultry, baked goods, and ground meat.
1 Tbsp of Chinese Five Spice = 1 Tbsp of Star Anise
And while star anise alone is a powerful spice, you can always combine it with onions, nutmeg, ginger, and cinnamon to improve its flavor.
Baharat is a spice mixture that is a common ingredient in Middle Eastern cuisine. Generally speaking, Baharat contains seven main spices: cumin, paprika, cloves, cinnamon, nutmeg, coriander, cardamom, and black pepper. Yet, depending on the region, you can also find mint, sumac, turmeric, and chili peppers as ingredients of Baharat.
Thanks to its aromatic flavor, which is smoky, earthy, and sweet, Baharat is a reliable substitute for Chinese five spice. You can use it as a seasoning for chicken, beef, fish, and lamb while also adding it to stews, soups, and even rice.
1 Tbsp of Chinese Five Spice = 1 Tbsp of Baharat
Za’atar is another blend of spices and herbs that is famous for its citrusy and nutty flavor. Even though recipes for Za’atar vary from region to region, its most common ingredients include sumac, oregano, sesame seeds, salt, and thyme. And while Za’atar is perfect for rice, meat, and vegetables, you can also add it to dips, soups, dressings, and marinades.
What makes Za’atar so interesting is that some variants of five-spice use it as one of their ingredients. Therefore, it’s no mystery why Za’atar is also one of the most popular substitutes for Chinese five spice. However, since this blend has a strong flavor, you should only use it sparingly.
1 Tbsp of Chinese Five Spice = ⅓ Tbsp of Za’atar
If you don’t have Chinese five spice in your kitchen, chances are that you might have one of its most popular alternatives, allspice. Due to its sweet flavor, reminiscent of pepper, cloves, nutmeg, and cinnamon, allspice can add an exotic touch to any recipe. And although allspice works with any dish, most people recommend it in meat, soups, stews, marinades, and even desserts.
But just like Za’atar, make sure you don’t overuse it, as you can alter your dish dramatically.
1 Tbsp of Chinese Five Spice = ½ Tbsp of Allspice
5. Garam Masala
Garam masala is a mix of ground spices and is considered a staple of Indian cuisine. While the ingredients of Garam Masala are different depending on the region, they often include black pepper, cumin, cinnamon, nutmeg, clove, coriander, and cardamom. Other variations may have ingredients such as bay leaves, fennel seeds, saffron, mace, and ginger.
When it comes to flavor, Garam Masala gives any dish a warm and sweet taste with a slightly hot hint. As a result, cooks all over the world use Garam Masala as a substitute for Chinese five spice. If you plan to give it a try, make sure to use small amounts and add more if you feel like it.
1 Tbsp of Chinese Five Spice = ½ Tbsp of Garam Masala
You can also use additional spices such as star anise and fennel seeds to improve the flavor of Garam Masala even more.
1 Tbsp of Chinese Five Spice = ⅓ Tbsp of Garam Masala + ¼ Tbsp of Powder Star Anise + ¼ Tbsp of Fennel Seeds
6. Ras El Hanout
Ras El Hanout is a spice mix found in Tunisia, Algeria, and Morocco made using anywhere between 30 and 80 different spices. While it has many variations, more often than not, Ras El Hanout contains anise, nutmeg, cardamom, ginger, cinnamon, pepper, turmeric, and mace.
Compared to other spice mixes, the flavor of Ras El Hanout can vary greatly depending on what ingredients it contains. However, it usually has a woody and bitter taste complimented by a slightly sweet and spicy flavor. Therefore, you can use Ras El Hanout for soups, stews, meat, vegetables, and many other dishes.
But if you want to use Ras El Hanout instead of Chinese five spice, you need to make sure it has the right ingredients for your recipe. Additionally, avoid using too much of it, otherwise, you might transform a tasty dish into a spicy or sweet disaster.
1 Tbsp of Chinese Five Spice = ½ Tbsp of Ras El Hanout
7. Sichuan Peppercorn and Fennel Seeds
You can mix ground fennel seeds and Sichuan peppercorn and create a blend that can replace Chinese five spice. The result will be a sweet, citrusy, and bitter flavor that is very similar to that of five-spice.
1 Tbsp of Chinese Five Spice = ½ Tbsp of Ground Fennel Seeds + ½ Tbsp of Sichuan Peppercorn
And if you don’t have Sichuan peppercorn, you can use black peppercorn instead. Just remember that the mixture will be less spicy and more bitter.
1 Tbsp of Chinese Five Spice = ½ Tbsp of Ground Fennel Seeds + ½ Tbsp of Black Peppercorn
8. Dillweed and Cinnamon Sticks
Dillweed and cinnamon can make a great substitute for Chinese five spice, especially since you might already have them in your kitchen. However, you’ll have to do a bit of work in order to successfully introduce them to your dish.
More specifically, you can’t add fresh dillweed directly to your dish, as it will go limp and make the dish less appealing. Instead, you need to chop it and then slowly introduce it to your dish. Afterward, you can add one or two cinnamon sticks to give your dish an earthy and woody taste.
1 Tbsp of Chinese Five Spice = ½ Tbsp of Chopped Dillweed + 1 or 2 Cinnamon Sticks