My whole house has delightful vibrant, spicy aroma right now. I’ve just made another batch of my favourite homemade Chinese Five Spice mix and I thought it was a good time to share the recipe with you here.
Chinese five spice is traditionally used in Chinese and Taiwanese cooking – often to flavour meat and seafood. Of course, since I don’t use animal products at all here I’ve found that it works a delight in other recipes, not least sweet treats. It gives delightful layers of spice and excitement to my Chinese 5 Spice Biscuits for example. I also like to use it in potato dishes or stir-frys.
It’s not just about ‘a bunch of spices that go nicely together’…. no! There’s a real depth to the whole five spice story. Although the exact history has been lost to the winds of time, it is known that 5 (五, Pinyin: wŭ) is a really special number in Chinese, relating to the five elements (Water, Fire, Earth, Wood, and Metal) in Chinese philosophy.
In traditional Chinese medicine, these elements represent different parts of the human body. Imbalances in any of these five elements are said to be related to diseases that occur. So in essence, we are talking ‘balance’ and embracing of our wholeness.
Formulas vary although they often tend to have the commonality of star anise, cinnamon, fennel, pepper and cloves. Five spice has a delightfully dominant liquorice layer to it thanks to the anise flavour of the star anise and the fennel.
Fennel is very refreshing with a gentle warming, spiciness and a bit of camphorous taste.
I love that fennel is good for lowering blood pressure. One of it’s better-known benefits is for helping digestion and easing bloating.
One of the other key ingredients is star anise. Oh, how I just love anything that looks like a dancing star! Apart from how pretty it looks, it tastes divine. Again, like fennel, it has a warming energy, with camphorous notes. It’s actually not the same spice as anise (even though they taste similarly). It is the seed pod from an evergreen tree, Illicium verum, from China.
According to Dr Axe star anise has the following benefits…
- Kills off bacteria
- Rich in antioxidants
- Wards off fungal infections
- May boost heart health
- Natural flu fighter
- Can help regulate blood sugar
Traditional five spice recipes call for Szechuan peppercorns. They are not always easy to get hold of everywhere, so you can easily substitute with other peppercorns instead. I am actually using black peppercorns at the moment since that is what I have available.
Black pepper gives it a nice spicy kick, so you definitely don’t want to over-do it. It’s just in there to dance with the other flavours.
Black pepper is a good anti-inflammatory agent and has note-worthy anti-bacterial properties. And would you believe it, it is actually the fruit of the black pepper plant from the Piperaceae family. It is native to Kerala in the south of India.
And cinnamon! Chinese five spice would not be the same without this heart-warming, naturally sweet addition. Cinnamon comes from the bark of the cinnamon tree (which can grow a whopping 60 feet tall).
Cinnamon is known for helping to control blood sugar and is often said to help fight diabetes. It has excellent anti-oxidant levels and is good for brain health (which always gets my vote haha).
Cloves are important in this mix. According to Wikipedia Cloves are the aromatic flower buds (as far as I know, they are the dried, unopened bud) of a tree in the family Myrtaceae, Syzygium aromaticum. They are native to the Maluku Islands (or Moluccas) in Indonesia and are commonly used as a spice.
Cloves are best known in alternative medicine as a pain-killer for dental emergencies, due to their powerful ‘numbing’ properties.
They have a very intense pungent, bitter, sweet flavour and distinctive warmth. Cloves are best used in moderation… but when used in the right amount add an amazing layer to any Chinese five spice blend.
OK so now we know a little more about the individual ingredients, let’s get to making this delicious blend. I like to use a pestle and mortar to make this for optimal vibrancy.
You can also use a spice grinder with similar effect.
If you prefer to buy pre-ground spices, then that will work too, just bear in mind that pre-ground spices often lose their potency and flavour, so if at all possible, I would recommend that you grind your own from the whole spices.
- 1/2 cinnamon stick (or about 1 teaspoon pre-ground)
- 4 whole star anise's (or about 2 heaped teaspoons ground)
- 1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds (just under half a teaspoon ground)
- 1/4 teaspoon whole black peppercorns ( 1/4 teaspoon ground)
- 5 whole cloves
With spice grinder
- If you are using a grinder, just pop them all in together and grind until finely ground.
With pestle & mortar
- If you are using a pestle and mortar, then start off the cinnamon, grind as finely as you can, then empty it out.
- Next grind the star anise as finely as you can - this might take a bit more persistence (but enjoy the process and those amazing aromas as you unleash the oils). Once done put it to the side.
- Repeat with fennel and then the other spices.
- When completed, mix all together and then place in a glass container (or use right away).
- For this recipe, you'll get about 4 teaspoons worth. Just increase quantities if you want a bigger batch.
- If you would like to use pre-ground spices then go ahead, but bear in mind that it is common for spices to lose their potency if they've been purchased as pre-ground. Still should be nice though.
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