Skip to Content

8 Best Chinese Five Spice Substitutes 

When it comes to making Asian cuisines, Chinese five spice is always a must-have. However, while you can easily find it in the spice section of your local grocery store, sometimes it can be hard to track down.

So if you’ve been looking for a substitute for Chinese five spice or simply ran out and need a last-minute replacement, in this post, you’ll find the best options.

What Is Chinese Five Spice?

Chinese five spice is a powdered blend of multiple spices commonly used in Chinese cooking. Unlike the name implies, the “five” in this spice blend refers to the five flavor elements of Chinese cuisine and not the number of spices used.

 The five flavors include sweet, sour, salty, bitter, and savory. The combination of these five flavor elements creates a unique flavor profile with layers of sweetness and a savory taste.

In terms of components, there are often many different variants of this spice blend, some of which can include much more than five spices. The  most common spices used for five-spice include:

  • Fennel seeds
  • Chinese cinnamon
  • Cloves
  • Star anise
  • Szechuan peppers
  • ginger

Other variations include turmeric, nutmeg, cardamom, licorice, anise seeds, and nutmeg.

Chinese five spice is mostly used as a dry rub for all kinds of meats but can sometimes be incorporated into marinades.

1. All Spice

All spice is a grounded spice made from dried berries of the pimenta dioiaca plant. It is a very unique spice with a  flavor profile that has warm hints of cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, and star anise. 

The combination of all these subtle flavors makes many people mistake allspice for Chinese five spice. 

The two have a similar flavor, making allspice a great substitute for five spice. You can use ground allspice in marinades, as a dry rub for meats, or opt for whole all-spice berries if you’re making soups or stews.

How To Substitute

When substituting, use a 1:1 ratio as both allspice and Chinese five spice have the same intensity of flavor.

If you’d like to learn a little bit more about allspice and how to use them, here is a video you to share more insights.

2. Garam Masala

Garam masala is a spice blend used in Indian cooking. Although they contain slightly different ingredients, both Chinese Five spice and garam masala have many similarities. 

Garam masala contains ingredients like fennel, cinnamon, and cloves which are typically found in Chinese five spices. 

It also has a complex flavor profile that is sweet, warm, and spicy, just like five spice. This makes it a great substitute to choose when you want an almost exact replica of the flavors of Chinese five spice. 

Add a few pods of star anise to your garam masala to give it a unique licorice-like taste common with five spice and add more depth to the flavor of the dish.

How To Substitute

When replacing Chinese five spice with garam masala, use a 1:1 ratio to get a similar taste and flavor.

3. Ras El Hanout

Ras el hangout is a spice mix commonly used in North African countries like Tunisia, Algeria, and Morroco. The name is an Arabic word that means “ top of the shop.”

 It often contains a large number of spices that range anywhere from twenty to over fifty. Ras el hanout has a strong flavor that is warm and sweet but also pungent and slightly woody making it a great substitute for Chinese five spice.  

This powerful spice blend is traditionally used as a dry rub for meats, so it is an ideal replacement for Chinese five spice if you’re making a meat dish. However, you can also add it to couscous, rice, or pasta dishes, as its robust flavors will add more depth to their taste.

How To Substitute

Ras el hangout has a very pungent and strong flavor, so when substituting, you’ll only need to use half a tablespoon for each tablespoon of Chinese five spice required.

You may need to also add a pinch of ground star anise and fennel to ras el hangout before using it to fully replicate the licorice flavor associated with Chinese five spice.

4. Homemade Five Spice Blend

One of the best substitutes for Chinese five spice is a homemade spice blend, as it allows you to incorporate all the spices commonly found in Chinese five spice. Doing this will allow you to create the same warm and sweet five spice flavors. 

This method will require a spice grinder, but once you have that ready, all you’ll need is Chinese cinnamon sticks, star anise, fennel seeds, Sichuan peppercorn, and cloves, all ground into a fine powder.

 If you don’t have a grinder, then you can get the pre-grounded version of all the required spices and combine them in equal parts.

How To Substitute

Use a 1:1 ratio when replacing homemade five-spice blend with Chinese five spice.

If you’re still unsure about how to make your own homemade five spice blend, here is a video to put you through.

5. Cinnamon Powder And Star Anise

Cinnamon and star anise are both ingredients found in Chinese five spices, and they make a great substitute when you need something easy to get your hands on. 

On its own, cinnamon has a warm sweet flavor with a slightly spicy note, but when combined with star anise, the two form a layered flavor profile that is very similar to that of five spices.  

You can use this mixture as a dry rub for meats, but it also works well with soups and stews.

How To Substitute

Combine equal parts cinnamon and star anise, then grind them into a fine powder. Use a 1:1 ratio when substituting Chinese five spice with this cinnamon-star anise mixture.

To get a stronger flavor release, you’ll need to lightly toast the two spices to release the aromatics and essential oils inside before grinding them.

6. Baharat

Baharat is a spice blend commonly used in middle eastern cooking. The ingredients used typically vary in different regions, but the usual components include cloves, black pepper, paprika, cumin, nutmeg, and coriander. 

The flavor of this spice blend starts off warm and sweet but transitions into a slightly spicy, smoky taste once it hits the palate. It also has a rich aroma that elevates the flavor of different dishes.

Baharat makes a great substitute for Chinese five spice. However, as with res al hanout, combining it with some ground star anise helps to bring out the sweet licorice flavor associated with five spice and adds more depth to the flavor.  

Baharat is also a very versatile spice blend, so you can use it in anything from meats to soups or even as a final garnish for rice dishes.

How To Substitute

Use a 1:1 ratio when replacing Chinese five spice with baharat.

Although you can find baharat at middle eastern specialty stores, you may find that it is much better to make your own blend as you’ll get a fresher taste. So, if you’re onboard the DIY train, here’s a video to help you out.

7. Fennel And Sichuan Peppercorns

Fennel and Sichuan peppercorns are two notable components of Chinese five spice. Therefore, when you need a substitute for five spices, combining the two undoubtedly creates a powerful blend of flavors that compensate for the lack of five spices. 

The peppercorns leave a slightly bitter and spicy taste, while the fennel releases a sweet licorice-like flavor that cools down the palate. You can use pre-grounded versions of both spices or grind the whole seeds if you want a fresher flavor.

How To Substitute

Combine equal parts fennel seeds and Sichuan peppercorns in a grinder and blend them into a fine powdery consistency. 

Use half a table sponge of the fennel and Sichuan peppercorn mixture for each tablespoon of Chinese five spice needed. If you are using the whole seed, then be sure to lightly toast them before grinding.

8. Za’atar

Za’atar is another middle eastern spice mix that makes a great substitute for Chinese five spice. However, it contains a herb blend of ingredients like thyme, so it doesn’t exactly possess the same warm and sweet ingredients in Chinese five spice. 

However, it has a rich, savory, earthy flavor that imparts a delicious taste to dishes like meat that call for Chinese five spice. 

To add a layer of sweetness commonly associated with five spice, you can include a pinch of ground star anise to replicate those Asian flavors properly.

How To Substitute

Use half a tablespoon of za’atar for each tablespoon of Chinese five spice required when substituting.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is Chinese Five Spice The Same As All Spice?

Chinese Five spice is not the same as allspice. This is because allspice is made from dried berries of one plant; meanwhile, five spice is made from a blend of different spices.

Does Chinese Five Spice Have Salt In It?

Chinese five spice does not contain any salt, as it is simply a blend of different spices. No salt-related ingredients are added.

What Is Chinese Five Spice Made Of?

Chinese five spice is typically made from a mixture of star anise, Chinese cinnamon, fennel seed, Sichuan peppers, cloves, and ginger root. However, there are many other variations with different ingredients, so you may find some made from many other spices.

What Is The Difference Between Allspice And Chinese Five Spice?

The main difference between all-spice and Chinese five spice is that all spice is made from a single spice derived from the fruits of the pimenta dioica plant. Meanwhile, Chinese five spice contains a mixture of five or more spices.

Can I Substitute Allspice For Chinese Five Spice?

Allspice has a warm and sweet flavor with a layered aroma similar to Chinese five spice, so you can substitute it for five spice.

Is Chinese Five Spice The Same As Garam Masala

Chinese five spice and garam masala are not the same. However, they are both a blend of different spices and contain similar ingredients like cinnamon and cloves. 

Garam masala is used in Indian cooking, and five Chinese spices are used in Chinese cuisine. The two also have slightly different flavor profiles and don’t contain all the same ingredients.

What Do You Use Chinese Five Spice For?

Chinese five spice is typically used as a dry rub for meats like pork, chicken, duck, and beef, but it can also be used as a marinade or seasoning for vegetables.

Is Seven Spice The Same As Chinese Five Spice?

Seven spice powder is not the same as Chinese five spice. Instead, seven spice is a Japanese spice blend with a much different flavor and ingredients. 

Unlike the Chinese five spices, seven spice contains a mix of chilis, dried orange peel, sesame seeds, ginger, seaweed, and Sichuan peppercorn. Seven spice is also typically added as a topping or finishing seasoning on different dishes, while five spice is used mostly as a dry rub/marinade.

What Is The Flavor Of Chinese Five Spice?

Chinese five spice has a warm sweet flavor with subtle hints of peppery taste that comes from the Sichuan pepper. The star anise also gives it a slight licorice flavor.

8 Best Chinese Five Spice Substitutes 

5 from 5 votes
Prep time

25

minutes
Cooking time

5

minutes
Total time

30

minutes

 A Chinese five spice substitute is a mixture of Chinese spices that can be used in cooking instead of the original mixture.

Ingredients

  • All Spice

  • Garam Masala

  • Ras El Hanout

  • Homemade Five Spice Blend

  • Cinnamon Powder And Star Anise

  • Baharat

  • Fennel And Sichuan Peppercorns

  • Za’atar

Directions

  • Choose your favorite substitute from the list given above
  • Follow the directions given in the recipe after having substituted the ingredient in the correct ratio

Recipe Video

Jess Smith