Best Chinese Five Spice Substitutes To Liven Up Food Flavors

Chinese Five Spice Substitute

As its name implies, Chinese Five Spice is a flavorful mix that’s immensely popular with Chinese and other East Asian cuisines. Thanks to the use of multiple spices and the variation in their usage, you can get hold of excellent Chinese Five Spice substitutes without breaking a sweat.

With most recipes, a substitute isn’t an exact fit. That’s true for this spice mix as well, but there are several variations available that make for decent alternatives.

Chinese Five Spice mix generally uses cloves, star anise, Chinese cinnamon, fennel seeds, and Sichuan (Szechuan) peppercorn. Common substitutes may use some of these ingredients and replace others. Still others might take an entirely different route and lock-in the flavors. 

Let’s look at the substitutes and see how it all pans out!

Best Chinese Five Spice Substitutes That Deserve Your Attention

1. Garam Masala

Garam masala is an intriguing choice. This mix of spices is immensely popular in India and continues to be used with alacrity. As a mix of spices, it usually includes black pepper, cumin, cardamom, cinnamon, coriander, and nutmeg.

Going by the ingredients, we can deduce that the taste of garam masala isn’t nearly similar to Chinese Five Spice. Using it will change the flavor of the dish, but not all is lost.

Garam masala has a sweet and warm floral flavor with a somewhat hot profile. That’s where it fits into being a proper substitute for Chinese Five Spice. 

It’s worth noting that Garam Masala doesn’t have a fixed recipe. Its taste and flavor are going to vary by the presence and ratio of its various ingredients. Besides, some garam masala recipes call for a few more spices, which might bring it closer in flavor for a substitution. 

2. Garam Masala With Star Anise

Star Anise isn’t usually an ingredient in Garam Masala. It is, however, a key ingredient for Chinese Five Spice. When added to Garam Masala, Star Anise pushes it more towards the taste notes of Chinese Five Spice, thus forming a more competitive substitute.

Star Anise has a sweet and spicy licorice-like flavor. Garam Masala usually has cinnamon and some variants may contain fennel seeds and cloves as well. Alternatively, you can choose to add a dash of cinnamon and cloves as well.

Either way, the presence of Star Anise gives Garam Masala a flavor profile closer to Chinese Five Spice. In fact, this is better than using plain old Garam Masala as a substitute.

3. Allspice

Allspice berries are a very aromatic spice. While very different from the usual five spice composition, it can add a delightful touch of flavor as a substitute. Allspice is native to the West Indies and Central America. The spice here is the dried berries of a tropical evergreen tree from the myrtle family.

Also known as Jamaican pepper or pimento, Allspice has a flavor that’s very close to the combination of cloves, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Though an acceptable replacement, it doesn’t quite enjoy the same taste and flavor profile as Chinese Five Spice.

Yet, it is versatile and flavorful. So, feel free to use allspice in desserts and baked goods, and even in soups, stews, and marinades.

4. Baharat

This rather exotic-sounding name comes from Arabic, where Baharat simply means “spices”. It’s usually a mix of seven spices though the number of spices and their quantity can vary by region and preferences. 

Generally speaking, Baharat has a flavor similar to Garam Masala, but that’s assuming it’s the conventional mix. If you use it as a substitute for five-spice, keep in mind that it will add a different flavor.

As a substitute, Baharat is best used for seasoning meat, though some soups and stews can also benefit from its addition.

5. Cinnamon And Star Anise Combo

Star Anise and Cinnamon often dominate the flavor profile of the conventional five-spice blend. So, using these two as a combo can get you a flavor remarkably close to five-spice. This combo is acceptable as a substitute and these two flavorful spices make a great set.

However, flavorful as this set is, it does lack the complexity and taste of the full five spice mix. So, my suggestion is to use this combo as a substitute if you’re in a pinch and have no other options available.

Making Chinese Five Spice At Home

The ingredients for Chinese Five Spice are readily available, which means you can make this famous spice mix at home. The basic process is straightforward and a gifted or experienced chef will be able to adjust the mix to suit their taste and bring out the best qualities of this mix.

Best results come for the spice, as well as its alternatives, when it includes five flavors: sour and bitter along with salty, sweet, and pungent. 

So, let’s get to the action with this recipe.

Ingredients You Need

  • Two tablespoons of ground Star Anise
  • A tablespoon of ground Chinese Cinnamon
  • A tablespoon of ground Fennel
  • Half tablespoon (or three-quarters tablespoon) of ground cloves
  • A tablespoon of whole Sichuan Peppercorn

You can make some adjustments to these quantities based on personal preferences. If you prefer a more intense and fresh flavor, use whole spices as the ingredient. Getting ground spices is easier, but there are benefits to getting whole spices for a more flavorful touch. 

Either way, you’ll have to use whole Sichuan Peppercorn, since it has to be roasted for use in the five-spice mix. It will work without roasting too, but the results are far better after heating/roasting the peppercorn.

Step 1: Roasting

Put the peppercorn in a skillet on low heat. Let it heat for about three minutes. If you’re using whole spices, add all of them to the skillet after a minute.

By the time the three minutes are done, the mix will be very fragrant. Be careful not to let any spice get scorched, as that will add a bitter taste to the mix.

Step 2: Grinding

Sichuan Peppercorns need to be ground to mix well with other spices. Again, if you’re using all whole spices, it’s time to put everything in a grinder.

Put all the spices in a grinder and let it run for about a minute. You should have a mix with a fine and even texture. The Chinese Five Spice is ready. Place it in an airtight container, away from heat, light, and moisture.

Alternative Method

If you prefer to go faster without the hassle of grinding or roasting, simply use ground versions of all spices. This will remove the need for roasting and grinding the spices.

Place the right quantities of every spice in a container and give it a nice shake so everything mixes up well. Transfer to an airtight container.

Voila! Your Chinese Five Spice Mix is ready for use.

Working The Flavors With Five-Spice And Its Substitutes

Chinese Five Spice is a wonderfully fragrant and flavorful mix. Though it’s an excellent choice, there are other options available for use as well. These Chinese Five Spice substitutes often add different flavors, but also bring their wonderful qualities to the table.

In case you don’t feel like using substitutes, making the five-spice at home is super easy. Here at Cookonmonday, we include an easy recipe, which you can use to make Chinese Five Spice at home.

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