Chinese five spice powder is one of the most common spices used in Chinese cooking. As the name indicates, it contains five spices although regional variations often include other spices as well. The five spices, cinnamon, cloves, fennel, Sichuan pepper and star anise, represent the five flavor profiles of sweet, sour, salty, bitter, and pungent. The blend is used as a rub on meats and added to breading on fried foods.
You can make your own five spice powder at home using ingredients purchased at the store as well as home grown spices. Two of the spices, cinnamon and Sichuan pepper, can be grown in containers which should be brought indoors during the winter. Fennel is a perennial that can be grown in your garden.
Cinnamon – Cinnamon is harvested from the bark of cinnamon trees which are tropical. Cinnamon trees are slow growing so you can grow one in a container. The bark used is young bark which can be easily peeled away from the branch and dried.
Cloves – Cloves are the dried flower buds of clove trees which are native to the tropics. They are not suitable for growing in containers because they require lots of humidity and large amounts of rainfall, between 50 and 70 inches each year. Buy your cloves whole and grind them as you need them.
Fennel – Fennel is a drought tolerant perennial that is hardy in zones 4 through 9. It is easily grown from seed direct sown in your garden. Both the foliage and the seeds are used to flavor food. In this case, it is the seeds that are used. They should be ground up before mixing with the other spices.
Sichuan Pepper – Sichuan pepper is not related to our familiar black pepper. It is the covering of the seed of a tree that is related to citrus such as lemons and limes. The Sichuan pepper trees reach a height of 21 feet, but if you keep it pruned, it can be grown in a container like bay laurel. Dry the seed covers completely and then roast them before grinding and adding them to your five spice mixture.
Star Anise – Star anise is the dried fruit of an evergreen tree that is native to southern china and northern Viet Nam. The flavor is similar to anise but the two plants are unrelated. Purchase your star anise whole and grind it yourself for more and better flavor than if you purchased it already ground.
Combine your ground spices as follows:
2 teaspoons Sichuan peppercorns, roasted and ground
8 star anise, ground
½ teaspoon ground cloves
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
1 tablespoon ground fennel seeds
Store in a tightly sealed container in a dry, cool, dark place.