Skip to Content

10 Of The Best Alternatives To Chinese Five-Spice To Use In Your Cooking!

Chinese five-spice can also be called ‘Chinese powder’.

Chinese five-spice is used to season and flavor a range of dishes, and it is well known for its distinctive aniseed taste.

The Five Spices

Chinese Five Spice is actually made up of five main spices – would you believe it? Those spices are star anise, cloves, fennel seeds, Sichuan peppercorn and Chinese cinnamon. Each spice adds something to the spice mix.

The star anise has a sweet, kind of warm and spicy taste, and the cloves contribute a bitter, astringent flavor, whilst also being sweet.

The fennel seeds are great for more of that anise flavor, the Sichaun peppercorn contributes by adding a kind of bitter, citrus flavor and, finally, the Chinese cinnamon adds a sweet but spicy flavor – the type that’s characteristic of cinnamon.

The five spices used in Chinese five-spice actually represent the five traditional Chinese elements – these can also be known as ‘chi’. For each of the five chi, there is a vital organ.

Each of the spices used within Chinese five-spice is supposed to stimulate a specific organ. The Chinese five-spice mix balances the flavors of umami, bitter, sweet, sour, and salty to provide the delicate flavor that five-spice is known for.

10 Of The Best Alternatives To Chinese Five-spice


When these five different spices are combined, they create one truly incredible, aromatic spice that can be used for a large range of dishes.

Uses for Chinese five-spice can include using it to either marinate your seafood, poultry, fish, or meat or using it as a dry rub before cooking for any of these proteins.

Chinese five-spice is surprisingly versatile, however, as it can be used to alter the flavor of sweeter plates, like desserts. Aniseed, one of the main components of Chinese five-spice, is often used as a standalone flavoring for certain desserts.

Chinese five-spice is mainly, however, used in Asian cuisines, such as Vietnamese food, Taiwanese food, or (of course) Chinese food.

It very much depends on which region your five-spice comes from, as there are a variety of combinations that can be used. Including some other spice choices, to make it.

Alternative spices that are used in five-spice include cardamom, galangal, anise seeds, licorice, nutmeg, and even orange peel!

10 Of The Best Alternatives To Chinese Five-Spice

If you’re cooking a tasty dish that calls for Chinese five-spice, but you don’t have it in your kitchen… don’t worry, we’ve got you!

Within this guide, we will talk about a lot of the most popular alternatives used for Chinese five-spice.

There’s a lot of these, ranging anywhere from garam masala to allspice, This is why we’ve selected the best ten, and compiled them together so that your dish isn’t ruined because you don’t have

Chinese Five-Spice, Made From Home

If you desperately need five-spice for your recipe, nothing makes more sense than to make your own!

The ingredients are as follows:

  • Two teaspoons of Sichaun peppercorns (or black peppercorns if you don’t have the Sichuan variety)
  • Five individual, whole star anise
  • Half a teaspoon of ground cloves
  • One tablespoons cinnamon (Specifically Chinese Cinnamon, if possible)
  • One tablespoon of ground fennel seeds

Making five-spice is fairly simple. Firstly, toast your peppercorns for 2-3 minutes on a low heat, using a skillet. When they are toasted, grind them up.

Next, grind your star anise up.

Now all of your ingredients are prepared. All you need to do is mix these spices together, and you have your very own, homemade five-spice! Your dishes have never tasted better.

Garam Masala

Garam Masala

Garam masala is a super important component of many Indian dishes, and it works brilliantly in conjunction with other spices or seasoning to act as a substitute for your five-spice.

Garam masala is wonderfully versatile – it can bus used as a powder, or in a paste form. It can be mixed with a variety of ingredients in order to thin it and add flavors, such as coconut milk or vinegar. It can also just be mixed with water to give it a bit of moisture.

Although garam masala can be used on its own, it tastes much better if it is used with other flavorings, as it is very complimentary of certain flavors and doesn’t bring much to the table completely on its own.

It’s great for cooking with, as garam masala is known for its hot, but floral and sweet taste. Due to its wide reach across the flavor board, garam masala makes a great substitute for five-spice.

It’s good to use garam masala sparingly, however – start by adding just a little bit, and if you enjoy the taste, feel free to add more to your liking!

Garam masala is a mixture of various ground spices.  These spices usually include cumin, clove, coriander, cardamom, and cinnamon – that’s a lot of spices beginning with ‘c’! Alongside these, garam masala also includes the spices black pepper, coriander, and nutmeg.

This can, of course, vary depending on what region it is created in and how it is used.

Garam masala spice mixes can also be made from mace, ginger, turmeric, star anise, tamarind, fenugreek, mustard seeds and fennel seeds, just to name a few of the alternatives.

One downside of garam masala is that, upon comparing the flavor profiles of the garam masala spice mix to the flavor profiles of five-spice, you will find that garam masala lacks the licorice, aniseed flavor that is typical of five-spice.

Star Anise

Star anise is characterized by its spicy-sweet flavor. As the name might suggest, star anise can be used as a substitute for the aniseed taste found with five-spice. Star anise can be purchased in its complete form, as well as ground up into a powder, ready to go.

When used in its complete form, star anise can be brilliant when used to flavor dishes like soups and stews.

The most important thing to remember if you choose to use star anise in its complete form is that you need to remove it at the end of cooking – biting into whole star anise unexpectedly may be unpleasant.

When used as a powder, star anise can brilliantly flavor baked goods, such as the filling in pies. It’s also fantastic when used to season poultry, or mixed with ground meat.

Ginger, nutmeg, cinnamon, and citrus are all amazing when paired with star anise. Onion is actually a good combination here, too! It’s important to note that if you choose to only use star anise, your dish will only be flavored by this specific spice.

RELATED: The Best Alternatives To Annatto Powder For Flavor, Color, and Spice

Combining Star Anise And Garam Masala

Okay, so you’ve decided that you don’t like the lack of complexity that comes with choosing to use only garam masala or star anise individually. Whilst both flavors work as individual components on their own, together they are absolutely beautiful!

If you’re looking for a substitute for five-spice, then combining both garam masala and star anise will provide you with a much closer taste, and experience as a result.

In order to use these spices as five-spice alternatives, you need to mix around a ½ teaspoon of garam masala with a ¼ teaspoon of powdered star anise.

This will work out as a substitute for approximately one teaspoon of five-spice. If using this combination, you can look forward to the deliciously spicy, licorice flavors within your dish!

Combining Fennel Seeds With Sichuan Peppercorn

Both Sichuan peppercorn and fennel seeds go exceptionally well together, and they make a really good substitute for Chinese five-spice.

To use these as an alternative, mix both the Sichuan peppercorn and fennel seeds (preferable, ground) together in equal parts. If you don’t have Sichuan peppercorn specifically, it’s completely fine to use regular black peppercorns instead.

You won’t have quite the same flavor using regular peppercorns, but you’ll still be able to add some a little bit of a kick to your food.

Combining Cinnamon With Star Anise

Star anise and cinnamon both have very distinctive flavors -star anise has its characteristic aniseed taste, whereas the cinnamon has a slightly spicy flavor, but it is mainly sweet, and it has that seasonal taste that we all associate it with.

When these two ingredients are combined together, they make an amazing alternative to using Chinese five-spice. This is because they hit a lot of the key flavor profiles.

Feel free to experiment with different ratios of each ingredient – different variations of this may result in a slightly different flavor.



Za’atar is another blend of spices, with added herbs! Za’atar is made by mixing sumac, salt, oregano, thyme, and marjoram, although some of these can also be substituted for alternatives, such as fennel seeds, caraway seeds, cumin, and coriander.

The recipe that you use to make this seasoning can, once again, differ depending on the region, so you should be aware of this.

The flavor of za’atar could be described as earthy, nutty and sweet, with notes of citrus. Meat, vegetables and rice all taste amazing after they have been paired with za’atar.

Za’atar can also be added to several other dishes, such as by using it as a seasoning for a marinade, dressing, soup, or even in dips!

If you’d like to use za’atar as your substitute for five-spice, we’d recommend you to use it in small increments, once again. This is because you can always put more seasoning in, but taking it out is a lot harder.

Tasting as you add ingredients is a tried and proven method that can help to avoid disappointment!

RELATED: The Best Alternatives To Chili Powder


‘Baharat’ means ‘spices’ when translated from Arabic. Baharat is actually a spice mix made up of seven different spices, and it is used in a lot of Middle Eastern cuisine.

The seven spices are paprika, coriander, cinnamon, cumin, cloves, cardamom, black pepper and nutmeg.

Once again, depending on the region that the mix is inspired by – variations to these ingredients can include sumac, saffron, mint, chili peppers and rosebuds.

Baharat tastes amazing when it is used to flavor proteins such as chicken, beef lamb, or fish. Whilst these are great uses for Baharat, it can also be used in different rice dishes, as well as soups and stews!

Baharat is very similar to garam masala in its flavor profile, however, it provides dishes with added layers of flavor. Baharat is quite aromantic, but it also carries an earthy, smoky flavor.

If you’d like to use Baharat as an alternative to the five-spice that your recipe originally called for, make sure to add a small amount of Baharat, to begin with so that you have room to adjust the quantity to your liking.


Allspice is a great spice to use as a substitute for Chinese five-spice! Allspice is made from berries that have been dried, and it has a sweet flavor with notes of cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, and pepper.

Allspice is great for use in soups, stews, marinades, seasoning meat and even flavoring your desserts and baked goods! This is because allspice works well with both sweet and savory food.

You can use allspice in either its whole or ground form, but it’s always worth testing out different methods of incorporating this versatile ingredient into your cooking.

Ras Elhanout

Ras elhanout is a spice mixture really popular in Morrocan cuisine. This mix of spices doesn’t have a set recipe as there are many versions.

The majority of ras elhanout spice mixes tend to include some combination cinnamon, anise, ginger, turmeric, mace, pepper, nutmeg and cardamom, however this can differ depending on the specific spice mix.

Some varieties of ras elhanout use anywhere from 30 to 80 different spices.

It can be used as a meat rub, or incorporated into ground meat. It’s also really good in soups and stews! Ras elhanout is also extremely good as a seasoning for your vegetables.

The huge range of spices that can be used in order to make ras elhanout means that different recipes hugely differ in taste, so when using this within your cooking, you may choose to experiment with different varieties and mixtures.

The best way to describe this flavoring would be a mixture between woody and sweet. Ras elhanout can also have a bitter taste, with a slight kick of spice.

RELATED: What Are The Best Substitutes For Shortening?

Final Thoughts

Now that we’ve discussed some of the best alternatives to five-spice, you’re ready to get back in your kitchen and whip up a storm! Good luck, and remember: the extra flavours are always worth it.

10 Of The Best Alternatives To Chinese Five-Spice To Use In Your Cooking!

5 from 1 vote

Chinese five spices are amazing in taste and flavor and here you’ll find 10 of the best alternatives to use in your cooking!


  • Garam Masala

  • Star Anise

  • Combining Star Anise And Garam Masala

  • Combining Fennel Seeds With Sichuan Peppercorn

  • Combining Cinnamon With Star Anise

  • Za’atar

  • Baharat

  • Allspice

  • Ras Elhanout


  • Decided on what substitute you need
  • Pick a substitute from the list above
  • Read what you need to substitute with
  • Create the recipe and enjoy

Recipe Video

Jess Smith