During our “Theme Weeks” one of the weeks we chose to do was an “Asian Week.” As we started looking at many of the recipes I noticed several used Chinese Five Spice.
We occasionally have this in our pantry but not at the moment. The closest good Asian market we have is upwards of 15 miles away and we don’t make it over there often. So it would be nice to find out what is in Chinese Five Spice.
The exact origins of the mixture seems to have been lost to history. There is some thought that the mixture is associated with the Chinese food culture philosophy of the five flavors, those being sweet, sour, salty, bitter, and one most often call ‘spicy’ as in ‘heat’ (not physical heat but flavor heat), other say pungent instead of ‘spicy’. That being said it appears there may have been something lost in translation as a more accurate name for Chinese Five Spice might be Chinese Five Flavors or even the Five Flavors of China 🙂
That explains why so many of the recipes for ‘Five’ spice actually have more than five actual spices in them. That always confused me. The exact mixture of spices seem to vary from region to region but they all adhere to the five flavors philosophy. The web site Flavor and Fortune gave this grouping of spices that seems to help explain this philosophy.
|Ginger||Sugar||Bitter melon-fresh||Bitter melon-ripe||Salt|
|Black pepper||Honey||Rice vinegar||Seville orange||Soy sauce-regular|
|Chili peppers||Coconut||Lemon||Soy sauce-thin|
|Sichuan pepper||Bell Peppers||Lime||Garlic-raw|
|Cinnamon||Apples||Dry wine||Star anise|
|Radish||Hoisin sauce||Mustard Greens|
Clearly this is not an exhaustive list and as near as I can tell somewhat objective. It does, however, help to explain the composition of the many Chinese Five Spice recipes.
Here is one common recipe.
yield 2 tablespoons
1 teaspoons of Szechuan peppercorns
1 teaspoon star anise
1 teaspoon ground cloves
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground fennel seeds
(I found it extremely difficult to find a reference that listed each of the ingredients in 5 spice mapped to the 5 flavors philosophy. If you know of one, please let me know.)
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