Chinese Spices You Should Use for Cooking | Inquirer

Chinese Spices You Should Use for Cooking

/ 10:27 AM December 20, 2022

Chinese cuisine is one of the best in the world. Chinese dishes are flavorful and diverse, with many ingredients and Chinese spices. Who doesn’t know dumplings, sweet and sour pork, or Peking duck? The well-liked familiar dishes are full of flavor at every bite.

And one of the secrets to flavorful cooking is the clever use of different Chinese spices. If you are passionate about cooking and curious to know more, scroll down. Bring out your wok. Discover the different spices that will enhance your cooking enjoyment before stir fry.

Top 10 Chinese Spices for Cooking  

Top 10 Chinese Spices for Cooking  

1. Five-Spice Powder

If India has ‘garam masala’, Chinese cuisine has its aromatic counterpart called the five spice powder. It is one of the most popular and versatile Chinese spices around. True to its name, this specific spice powder has five different spices added together. It has fennel, star anise, Schezuan pepper, cloves, and cinnamon. You can find this spice mix in most Chinese groceries. 

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Its tangy and peppery taste is key to many savory Chinese dishes. You can use it on meat and vegetable dishes and add it to braising liquids. Try it on Taiwanese popcorn chicken, and you won’t regret it!

2. Sichuan Peppercorns 

Did you know that Szechuan (Sichuan) peppercorns are ‘berries’ from the prickly ash tree? They were the dominant spice in Chinese cuisine before traders introduced chili peppers in the 16th century. 

The particular spice provides an extra spicy kick if you want to level up your Chinese dish. It is also known for its numbing ‘ma’ sensation. Ma Po Tofu and Dan Dan Noodles are a couple of dishes you can use Szechuan peppercorns.

3. Cinnamon 

Most Western dishes use cinnamon as a sweet spice. However, in Chinese cuisine, cinnamon is often used in savory dishes. Chinese cinnamon is commonly called cassia. Do note that cassia is different from  Mexican or Ceylon cinnamon. The sweet spice adds a great flavor to Lu Rou Fan (braised pork rice). For a cinnamon-flavored dessert, try Chinese Pear Dessert Soup.

4. Star Anise

On the other hand, the star anise is considered one of the best spices on the planet. The star-shaped spice is from the Chinese evergreen tree, illicium verum. Star anise reminds you of fennel or licorice. 

It is widely used in Chinese, Vietnamese, Indian, and Middle Eastern cuisine. Though it is often confused with anise, they are different. You can use star anise as a flavor enhancer in various savory and sweet recipes. Mei Cai Kou Rou (Steamed pork belly with preserved vegetables) is well regarded for its taste.  You can also add star anise to desserts and even cocktails like Cranberry & Star Anise Champagne Cocktails.


On top of that, the aromatic spice offers medicinal and health benefits. It has antiviral and antifungal properties. 

5. Cloves

Cloves are another aromatic sweet spice with an intense flavor. The cloves are the flower buds of the evergreen tree. Often used in savory meat dishes and desserts, you can use ground or a whole to flavor different dishes. Spiced vegetable meatballs and clove-flavored shrimp pancakes are two Chinese dishes that use cloves. On top of that, cloves can be used as a garnish. It is commonly paired with cinnamon or nutmeg in desserts. 

6. Fennel

Fennel is typically used in Italian and Indian cuisine. But when it comes to Chinese cooking, fennel is still a  ‘newbie’ spice ingredient. The spice is well-known for its licorice flavor.   Like its bulb and stalk, the fennel plant is edible and contains many antioxidants and anti-inflammatory properties. Fennel seeds are a key ingredient to meat dishes like Lanzhou beef noodle soup.

 The fennel plant’s bulb, stalk, and fronds are also entirely edible. Fennel seeds are delicious in meat dishes like Lanzhou beef noodle soup.

7. White Pepper 

No Chinese dish is complete with a dash of white pepper. White pepper and black pepper are the same.  White pepper is more floral and less aromatic. Chefs use it more often in Chinese cuisine than black pepper. However,  French cooking uses white pepper for light-colored dishes and for aesthetic purposes. 

You can use white pepper as an alternative to black pepper for hot and sour soup, a stir-fry dish, or a sweet and savory sauce. White pepper is an ingredient in the Longevity noodle dish, with chicken, ginger, and mushroom. 

8. Dried Chili

Dried chili spice is ‘heaven’ to all spicy lovers. 

Like a perfect harmony, Sichuan peppercorn and dried chili create a ma la (numbing and spicy) taste. Add dried chili to dishes to have the spiciness you want to please your palate. 

You can also make your chili oil with dried chili and use it on your favorite dumplings and the famous and flavorful Saliva chicken. 

9. Black Cardamom 

Cardamom originated from southern India. The black cardamom variety is popular in Chinese cuisine because it adds a smoky flavor to both savory and sweet recipes. Cardamom is popular in Nepalese and Indian cuisine. You can use the spice in pod form or ground. Typically, black cardamom is a great addition to braised beef and other savory dishes. On top of that, cardamom is known to have health benefits. Loaded with antioxidants, it helps lower blood pressure. 

10. Bay Leaf

Another aromatic spice commonly used in different cuisines is Bay leaf. Bay leaf comes from the laurel plant and has a floral and herbal scent. Used as fresh or dried, bay leaf flavors savory meat dishes and soups. In addition, chefs and cooks use it when braising meat and soup stock. The one-work chicken stew is delicious and flavorful, spiced with bay leaf. You can buy this spice in a lot of grocery stores. 

What spices are in Chinese five spice powder?

What spices are in Chinese five-spice powder?

Five spice powder contains Szechuan (Sichuan) peppercorns, ground cloves, fennel, cinnamon, and star anise. The 5-spiice powder can also include anise seeds, ginger root, nutmeg, turmeric, cardamom, amomum villosum pods (similar to cardamom), licorice, orange peel, or galangal.  

Chinese five-spice powder has a distinct taste. It has a licorice-like flavor due to the combination of star anise,  cinnamon, and fennel. On the other hand, cloves add a cooling sensation, while the Szechuan peppercorns give a peppery note. 

How do you make Chinese five-spice powder?

To make this spice mix, you’ll need the following ingredients:

  1. One teaspoon of ground cinnamon
  2. One teaspoon of ground and toasted fennel seeds
  3. One teaspoon of ground star anise
  4. One teaspoon of ground and toasted Szechuan peppercorn.

Mix all these ingredients. Afterward, store the mix in an air-tight jar. 

What spices are in a Chinese stir fry?

The typical spices in stir fry cooking are ginger, garlic, scallion, star anise, cinnamon, cloves, fennel seeds, and Szechuan peppercorn. 


There are countless ways and approaches to cooking and using different Chinese spices.  With this type of spices, be creative and experiment on different Chinese and other Asian or western recipes. Use it on meat, fish, chicken, and different vegetables.  Spice up your soup, sauces, and even cocktails.  Who knows, you can come up with unique Chinese-inspired dishes!

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