10 Best Chinese Five-Spice Substitutes

five spice

Five-spice is a powder with mixed flavors used in Chinese, Vietnamese, and Taiwanese cuisine. This mixture is made with 5 spices including cloves, star anise, Chinese cinnamon, fennel seeds, and Sichuan peppercorn.

They are all mixed in one powerful spice that is a common ingredient in the rubs and marinades for fish, meat, seafood, and poultry. You can also use it to add flavor to some sweet dishes.

Depending on the region, there are other variations of this spice made with ginger, cardamom, turmeric, anise seeds, galangal, nutmeg, licorice, and orange peel.

Five-spice also known as a Chinese powder was used to keep the balance between warm-yang and cool-yin. It is incorporating the five flavors of salty, sweet, bitter, sour, and umami.

What is 5 Spice Made of?

Five-spice includes Chinese cinnamon, fennel seeds, star anise, cloves, and Sichuan peppercorn. Now, let’s take a closer look at each ingredient and see what flavor they all bring to your dish.

  • Chinese cinnamon is with a sweet and slightly spicy flavor.
  • Fennel seeds have a sweet, warm anise-like flavor.
  • Star anise has a warm, sweet, and spicy licorice-like flavor.
  • Cloves are with a strong, sweet-bitter, and astringent flavor.
  • Sichuan peppercorn is with unique bitter citrusy flavor with a lavender hint and numbing sensation.

They are all mixed in one powder mixture, known as five-spice powder. With sweet warm flavor from the fennel and cinnamon, licorice flavor from star anise, woody from the cloves and spicy bitter flavor added from the Sichuan peppers.

If you don’t have five-spice in your kitchen you can use some other spices as a substitute. Garam masala, star anise, cinnamon and star anise, baharat, allspice, or some of the spices in this article.

Five Spice Substitutes

The best substitutes for five-spice are the spices from their original content. You will get some kind of flavor that is not quite similar to five-spice but it will save your recipe.

1. Garam masala

Garam Masala spices

Garam masala is a mixture of ground spices. And it’s a staple in Indian cuisine. You can use it as a powder or paste, mix it with vinegar, coconut milk, or water. Or you can use it alone. However, I suggest adding other seasonings to reach a better flavor in dishes.

The basic ingredients in this mixture are cumin, black pepper, clove, coriander, nutmeg, cardamom, and cinnamon. However, there are many other variations of this recipe depending on the region where they are made and used.

Some variations of garam masala include ginger, mace, garlic, saffron, turmeric, bay leaves, star anise, fennel seeds, tamarind, mustard seeds, dried red chiles, and fenugreek.

Garam masala is a common ingredient in cooking because it gives a sweet and warm floral flavor to dishes with a slightly hot hint. You can use it as a substitute for five-spice. But use a small amount and if you like the flavor you can add more.

These spices have different ingredients and flavors. Thus, expect a different flavor in your dishes, without the sweet anise-licorice flavor of the star anise and fennel seeds.

2. Star anise

Star anise

Star anise has a sweet, spicy, and warm specific flavor, similar to anise seed, clove, fennel seed, and licorice. It’s available in both whole and ground forms.

Whole pods work well in soups, stews, and braised dishes to add flavor. And you need to remove them at the end of the cooking. Star anise in powder form, on the other hand, works well in baked goods, fillings for pies, with poultry, and in-ground meat.

You can combine star anise in small amounts with onions, citrus, nutmeg, cinnamon, and ginger. Star anise alone will only give a specific flavor to your dish and you will miss out on the flavor of the other spices.

3. Garam masala and star anise

Garam Masala

If you want to reach a similar flavor in your food like when you are using five spice you can mix garam masala and star anise.

Mix ½ teaspoon of garam masala with ¼ teaspoon star anise powder. Add it to your dish as a substitute for 1 teaspoon of five-spice. You will get a lovely mixture of spices with many different flavors like sweet, spicy, floral, and licorice all in one.

4. Baharat

Baharat which means “spices” in Arabic is a spice mixture used in Middle Eastern cuisine. It is also known as a 7 spice mixture.

The ingredients are coriander, paprika, cumin, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, cardamom, and black pepper. However, the ingredients can vary depending on the region, so saffron, turmeric, sumac, mint, rosebuds, and chili peppers are also a part of the preparation of Baharat.

This seasoning is perfect for beef, chicken, fish, and lamb. However, you can also add it to different soups, stews, and rice.

Baharat has a similar flavor to garam masala. It is an aromatic mix of different spices with a sweet, smoky, and warm earthy flavor. You can use small amounts of Baharat as a substitute for five-spice, and it will give a different flavor to your dish.

5. Za’atar

Za’atar is a blend of spices and herbs. However, it is also one of the ingredients in the five-spice blend. Recipes for this seasoning can vary from region to region, using different spices.

The main spices and herbs in za’atar include sesame seeds, sumac, salt, oregano, marjoram, and thyme. Some other variations include fennel seeds, coriander, cumin, and caraway seeds.

It has a sweet and slightly bitter citrusy-nutty flavor which pairs well with meat, rice, and vegetables. You can also add it to different marinades, dips, dressings, or soups. Substitute this mixture of spices with five-spice in small quantities and see how it works in your dish.

6. Allspice


If you have allspice at home, you can use it to add extra flavor to your food. It is made of dried berries with a sweet flavor that reminds of nutmeg, pepper, cloves, and cinnamon all in one.

You can use whole or ground berries in soups, stews, meat, marinades, baked goods, and desserts. Although these two spices are with different flavors you can substitute with each other and experiment in the kitchen.

7. Ras elhanout

This spice has many variations with different ingredients but most recipes include ginger, cinnamon, anise, nutmeg, cardamom, pepper, mace, and turmeric.

Some spice mixtures are made with 30-80 different spices. Therefore, the flavor of this spice can vary depending on the spices that are used.

It has bitter and woody but at the same time a sweet and slightly spicy flavor. This spice is a common ingredient in Moroccan cuisine as a rub for meat, mixed into ground meat, or added to stews, soups, and vegetables.

8. Fennel seeds, Sichuan peppercorn

Fennel seeds 

Mix the ground fennel seeds and Sichuan peppercorn and use the mixture as a substitute for five spices. You will get mixed sweet and bitter, citrusy, lavender and anise flavors which will remind you of the flavor of five-spice.

If you don’t have Sichuan peppercorns, use black peppercorns. They are less spicy and with different flavors but they will give a little spiciness to your dish.

9. Cinnamon, star anise

Star Anise

Cinnamon has a sweet flavor and spicy hints. Star anise, on the other hand, has a specific flavor similar to fennel seed, anise seed, clove, and licorice.

They are both mixtures that make pretty good substitutes for five-spice. You can adjust the amounts depending on your taste until you get the desired flavor.

10. Homemade five-spice

The best substitute for five-spice is the one made in your kitchen, so collect the next ingredients and make your own five-spice in just seconds.


  • 1 tablespoon ground fennel seeds
  • 1 tablespoon ground Chinese cinnamon
  • 1/2teaspoon ground cloves
  • 2 teaspoons Sichuan peppercorns
  • 5 whole star anise


Toast the Sichuan peppercorns in a skillet on low heat for 3 minutes. Grind them together with the star anise and add the other ingredients.

Grind all spices together until you get smooth and even texture. You can store your five-spice powder in an airtight container, in a dark and cold place.


Can I use allspice instead of five-spice?

Allspice and five-spice are two different spices with different flavors but if you have allspice use it in your dish. You will get a different flavor, not very similar to five-spice.

Is 5 spice the same as Chinese 5 spice?

Five-spice is the same as Chinese 5 spice.

Is Garam Masala the same as Chinese 5 spice?

Garam masala is not the same as Chinese 5 spice. Although they both contain cloves, cinnamon, and fennel seeds they don’t have the same flavor.

Let’s Spice Things Up!

These suggested substitutes have a different flavor than the five-spice. However, they all have at least one same spice related to their flavor. Try some of the substitutes mentioned above and let us know did you get the desired flavor.

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