Chinese five spice (五香粉) is a traditional Chinese powder that adds sweet, sour, salty, and bitter flavors to a dish. It is typically made with five spices: Star anise (八角), Chinese cinnamon (肉桂), Fennel seeds (小茴香), Szechuan peppercorns (花椒), and Cloves (丁香).
You get the licorice taste from star anise, earthy flavors from cinnamon and fennel seeds, and a numbing sensation from the Szechuan peppercorns.
If you need this special powder but don’t have one, there are five alternatives you can choose from that will yield a similar taste.
Some alternatives that I share won’t be exactly the same, but it is good enough to replace it and add a similar flavor. These are excellent alternatives, especially if you only need a tablespoon or a small amount for your recipe.
1. Homemade Chinese Five Spice Powder
The best alternative to store-bought Chinese five spice powder is a homemade version. In my Homemade Chinese Five Spice Powder recipe, you’ll need the following:
- 20 g Star anise
- 5 g Chinese cinnamon
- 15 g Fennel seeds
- 12 Szechuan peppercorns
- 5 g Cloves
- 3 g Bay leaves
The star anise and cinnamon are first broken into small pieces and then toasted in the pan with the fennel seeds, Szechuan peppercorns, cloves, and bay leaves. Afterward, the spices are cooled and ground into fine powder. When you are done, keep it in a sealed spice jar and use it when needed.
2. Ground Cinnamon
If you only have cinnamon, you can use it alone as a substitute. The ratio of cinnamon to Chinese five spice is 1:1. Substitute 1 tablespoon of Chinese five spice with 1 tablespoon of ground cinnamon.
You can also use 1 cinnamon stick for every tablespoon of Chinese five spice. Don’t forget to remove the cinnamon stick when you are done cooking the dish. If you have ground fennel seeds, ground garlic, and any ground pepper, you can also mix them with the ground cinnamon.
3. Ground Cinnamon And Ground Star Anise
Cinnamon and star anise are among the common spices to find in a grocery store that can help you make the closest substitute to Chinese five spice powder. You can swap Chinese five spice with a mix of ground cinnamon and ground star anise. This will give you the spiciness and warmth of cinnamon and the licorice taste of star anise.
Mix 1 tablespoon of ground cinnamon with 1 tablespoon of star anise. You can follow a 1:1 ratio of ground cinnamon and star anise mix to Chinese five spice powder. If you don’t have ground cinnamon and ground star anise, you can use whole cinnamon sticks and whole star anise.
These can be broken into small pieces and ground with a blender. You can also simply cook the dish with the whole pieces to let the flavor infuse with the dish, but remember to remove them after cooking it.
Allspice is a combination of nutmeg, cloves, ginger, pepper, and cinnamon flavors. It has a strong pungent aroma that is warm and spicy.
It is the best alternative to Chinese five spice since it is a single spice powder without needing to combine with other spices.
Replace 1 tablespoon of Chinese five spice with 1/2 tablespoon of allspice. If you wish to add more, use 1 tablespoon instead of 1/2 tablespoon of allspice.
5. Szechuan Peppercorn And Fennel Seeds
The combination of Szechuan peppercorn and fennel seeds will give you a similar effect of numbing and tingling sensation. It will have a subtle sweetness and mild star anise-like taste with the fennel seeds. If you don’t have Szechuan peppercorn, you can replace it with black peppercorn.
However, black peppercorns will not emit the same citrusy and numbing sensation of the Szechuan peppercorn. Black peppercorn is more spicy, woody, and warm. You can swap 1 tablespoon of Chinese five spice with a mix of 1/2 tablespoon of ground Szechuan peppercorn and 1/2 tablespoon of ground fennel seeds.
Do you have a recommended substitute for Chinese five spice powder that is not mentioned in the list? Share your recommendations in the comments section below. For more spice guides, stay up-to-date by following Kitchen Misadventures on Instagram and Tiktok.