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Substitute for Chinese 5 Spice Powder

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  • masha Mar 14, 2009 01:42 PM
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I have a recipe that calls for 1 tsp of Chinese 5 Spice powder for a marinade. What can I substitute? -- some chili powder, cayenne pepper,....?

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  1. Five-spice powder includes all five flavors - sweet, sour, bitter, pungent, and salty. I don't really think there would be any comparable ingredient you could use that would impart a closely similar taste. Here are the components to 5-spice powder:

    2 teaspoons of Szechuan peppercorns, roasted & ground
    8 star anise, ground
    ½ teaspoon ground cloves
    1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
    1 tablespoon ground fennel seeds

    6 Replies
    1. re: Sam D.

      Quite right and if you buy pre-made, have a look at the ingredient list. It often does not contain the Szechuan peppercorn which means it's fake.
      Some recipes for 5 spice vary in quantity, but they all contain the spices Sam D quoted.
      Some have more. The 5 spice does not mean only 5 spices but rather 5 flavours, as Sam said.

      1. re: Sam D.

        Thanks. As I said, I only need 1 tsp and it is for a marinade that is not, per se, a Chinese dish. It sounds like I could use a mixture of cayenne, salt, cinnamon & ground cloves (don't have any fennel seeds, star anise, or ground Szechuan peppers on hand). Taste would not be the same but it probably would suffice.

        1. re: masha

          I can tell you what shares the flavor profile of fennel, because I dislike all of it: licorice, coriander, cilantro, tarragon, parsley. I'd also put in some fresh-cracked black peppercorns, if you have them. As for the salt - be careful if there's any form of soy in the marinade, since that's already salty.

          1. re: greygarious

            I just bit into a fennel sead from my cupboard and I think the sweet pungeant flavor could be imitated with a little dry basil and maple syrup. the salt will either over power or make it all sweeter. yes on the pepper

            1. re: greygarious

              No soy sauce in the marinade but there is salt, so I will probably omit using any additional salt for the 5-spice substitute. I do have coriander, cilantro, tarragon, and dry basil (maple syrup too but I think that would too much change the flavor profile of the dish and make it too sweet-- recall I only want 1 tsp total). Perhaps I'll add a pinch of the coriander & basil. Thoughts?

              1. re: masha

                I don't hate basil so I think coriander and tarragon would be closer to fennel.

        2. If it's only 1 tsp that you need, just add (or increase) the amount of salt and pepper, and maybe some cayenne pepper if you've got it. No one will be the wiser.

          1 Reply
          1. re: ipsedixit

            I've had a healthy addiction to five spice flavors for about forty years.
            Leave off the cayenne pepper. Fresh cinnamon, fresh cloves would get you towards the flavor.
            (I also love coriander and basel and tarragon, but they are five spice like things.)

            My rule for me has always been when I don't have the ingredient, leave it off rather than substitute. This goes back to a roommate who got a lot of eggplant on sale and added it to everything from pancakes to alfredo sauce. Some mixtures were not meant to be.

          2. If it is for a marinade, then perhaps a splash of liqueur like sambuca will help you get it close. Otherwise, you can leave it out or just replace with black pepper, pumpkin pie spice, etc.

            What is the recipe and what do you have in you cupboard now?

            1. I find that plain "Allspice" is a good substitute for 5 spice powder which, I personally cannot stand. Allspice and a pinch of ginger powder really taste great and is a really good flavor in place of 5 spice powder in a recipe!