What Is Five-Spice Powder And How Do You Use It?

Would you have ever guessed a powder would have philosophical meaning? Well, five-spice powder does. Yin and yang is all about balance. Kind of how you need to balance out your night of TV binge-watching with a mindfulness walk the next day. All Spice says five-spice is known for this same balance, but in food: warm and cool in combination with sweet and spicy.

Five-spice powder is meant to reflect the five elements — fire, water, wood, earth, and metal — according to Feasting At Home. The herbs and spices have been used for healing and illnesses for thousands of years, which is where this unique blend of spices comes from.

The aroma of five-spice will open your nose to a world of new flavors and recipes that may become a new household favorite. It can be used for sauces, vegetables, meats, soups, seafood, tofu and so much more (via Feasting At Home). But what's there to know about five-spice powder? Keep scrolling to learn more about this eclectic ingredient.

What exactly is five-spice powder?

In case the name did not give it away, there are actually five spices in this powder! The flavorful spices are star anise, fennel seeds, szechuan peppercorns, whole cloves, and cinnamon sticks. The Spruce Eats says that this spice is not only vegan and vegetarian friendly, but also fat-free, gluten-free, and dairy-free.

Surprisingly, the five in five-spice stands for multiple things. Not only does it stand for the amount of spices and elements on earth, but also the five flavor groups — sweet, bitter, salty, sour, and pungent — according to Daring Gourmet. While it's exact origins are unknown, it is very popular throughout Chinese cuisines.

The spices and herbs used in this powder all come in different shapes and sizes. Toasting them will release more flavor and then, once ground together, you will have your new favorite spice. Sounds simple enough, but is it that easy to make your very own? Find out below!

How do you make five-spice powder?

While you can easily get pre-made five-spice powder at your local grocery story, it is just as easy to make it yourself. Feasting at Home says all you have to do is grind the ingredients until smooth or in a coffee grinder and bam — homemade spice!

In this instance, the hardest part about making five-spice powder would be ensuring you have all of your spices gathered together beforehand. Many of the spices can be found by themselves in your grocery store's spice aisle. If not, take a stroll over to the international or Asian foods aisle and you should be able to find just what you are looking for, says Valuable Kitchen.

Once you have what you need, you will start the process by toasting your herbs and spices. You do not have to do this step, but it will enhance the flavor. The Spruce Eats recommends to first toast the peppercorns in a skillet over low heat until fragrant. Then go ahead and throw the toasted peppercorns and star anise into a blender or grinder.

If you have a sifter, it is best to sift what you have ground so far for a smooth consistency. Lastly, you will mix in your ground cinnamon, cloves, and fennel seeds with the rest and grind until fine. Once placed in an airtight container, you are ready to get to cooking.

What does five-spice powder taste like?

Pinning down the taste can be tough, as it literally has five different spices and flavor profiles! But The Spruce Eats says the most distinct flavor in five-spice powder is similar to licorice. So, each spice and herb is going to offer its flavor profile.

Cinnamon adds a sweet, yet spicy flavor. When you make French toast, you need both sugar and cinnamon to get a good balance of both. Cinnamon adds that balance to five-spice powder (via The Spruce Eats).

Szechuan peppercorns are not peppers, as the name may suggest — it's a berry. The Spruce Eats says this spice will leave you with a spicy flavor profile so strong your tongue may go numb. You will be able to detect ginger and even lemon as it lingers.

Ground cloves are like cinnamon, where they are used in many different kinds of desserts, but they add a sweet element to five-spice, working as the sugar in this mix. The licorice flavor comes from the star anise that helps level out the sweet and spicy by adding in some bitterness (via Season With Spice).

Fennel is very similar to star anise, as it offers that licorice flavor, but only slightly. All Spice says it can sometimes be called "sweet cumin" since it is sweet, but warm like cumin. This mix will make you get lost in the aroma.

How do you cook with five-spice powder?

Five-spice is such a vibrant mix of spices that it goes well with many different kinds of dishes. Chicken, soup, steaks, casseroles, and desserts — you can cook anything under the sun with this perfect blend. Cooking Light even says you can add it into a Whiskey Sour.

For any kind of poultry, a dry rub marinade lends itself well to this powder. Rubbing this onto a good cut of flank steak with a small amount of oil will enhance the flavor and deliver that perfect charred exterior (via Cooking Light). Only use a little, as a little goes a long way (via The Spruce Eats).

Five-spice can also be used to marinate meat, especially pork, to ensure a good flavor. The Spruce Eats says that one traditional meal known as "five flower pork" involves marinating the pork in five-spice powder and then steaming the meat. It lends itself well to stir fries, pumpkin and sweet potato pie, Chinese noodles, and so much more (via Cooking light).

Whether its part of a marinate or dry rub, tossed in a salad, or added into a soup or noodle dish, the possibilities with five-spice are endless.

Is five-spice powder good for you?

Since this is only a powder, five-spice is not going to give you your daily dose of nutritional benefits, but it will still bring a good mix of minerals and antioxidants, according to Precision Nutrition's Encyclopedia of Food. There is copper, iron, and manganese packed into this powder.

Precision Nutrition's Encyclopedia of Food also notes that 100 grams of dried anise seeds — which is in five-spice powder — holds 37 milligrams of iron, well exceeding the needed daily requirement at 462%! The Spruce Eats adds that it has a small amount of fiber and calcium, too.

As discussed earlier, this powerhouse spice is known in traditional Chinese medicine, meaning it is believed to help organ function, regulate appetite, and promote circulation (via The Spruce Eats). While it will not give you all of your daily nutrients, it will surely spice up the foods you do have and help you achieve a yin and yang life of balance.