Learn how to toast and grind this exotic blend of herbs and spices for yourself. You’ll be amazed at how easy five spice powder is to make.
I discovered Chinese five spice ten years ago after I had just moved out and was determined to buy “grown-up groceries.” (What are those exactly, anyways?) In my quest for the exotic and mature, I bought Chinese five spice in a grinder. It was a tiny jar with whole herbs and spices in it, ground freshly as needed.
I used that jar exactly once. I made some gourmet cookies that called for Chinese 5-Spice and oh-so-proudly retrieved my little grinder from the cupboard.
And that was the first and last time it was ever used. Of course, I couldn’t get rid of it- I might need it some day! Instead, it lived with my spice collection and was boxed up and moved approximately 9 times as I worked my way through a series of apartments.
The need for five spice powder reappeared in my life last week as I was doing recipe testing for a top secret project. (Eeeek!!!) I got out my precious little grinder. I needed a tablespoon of spice.
It took approximately half an hour to grind out that much. Hmmm.
I cooked the dish and tasted it. Hmmmm. Were there even any spices in that meal?
It was time to face the facts- the grinder didn’t work and the spices were stale. Good-bye, sweet Chinese five spice grinder. We had a good run. (Scroll down to the bottom for a hilarious comedy routine about Chinese 5-spice. I laughed so hard that I cried.)
Enter the wonderful world of spice-making. I would make my own Chinese five spice! Seriously, you need to get on board with this concept. We buy so many little packets of spices at the grocery store that are actually spice blends. Curry powder, chilli powder, pumpkin pie spice, garam masala, poultry seasoning, and Chinese five spice, to name a few.
We can actually make these spice blends ourselves at home- the result is a fresher, more vibrant spice blend. You’ll notice a massive difference in the quality of your cooking. Check out my hot curry powder as an example.
Chinese five spice is a blend of, well, five spices. (You guessed that already, didn’t you?) The store-bought variety sometimes has extra ingredients thrown in like nutmeg or ginger, but I’m a purist about these things and want the original. I just can’t cope with having seven ingredients in my Chinese five spice. If I work through these issues, I’ll post another version with variations. Until then, let’s stick to the basics.
Here’s what’s in Chinese five spice:
This is so simple to make that you’ll wonder why you didn’t do this ages ago. I made mine with the capable assistance of a toddler. If I can do it with a two-year-old, you can handle this just fine. Get out your spices, your cast iron pan, and your spice grinder. Let’s get started!
1 1/2 tbsp whole fennel seeds
1 1/2 tbsp black peppercorns
1 1/2 tbsp whole cloves
1 1/2 tbsp whole anise stars, broken into pieces
1 tbsp ground cinnamon
In a cast iron skillet, over medium heat, gently heat the fennel seeds and black peppercorns. Stir them frequently by gently shaking the pan. Cook until fennel seeds are slightly golden and both spices are fragrant. Transfer spices to bowl to allow to cool.
Meanwhile, in a small spice grinder (read more here) grind cloves until finely ground. Repeat with anise stars. Once cooled, grind fennel seeds and then peppercorns.
Combine ground cloves, ground anise stars, ground fennel seeds, ground peppercorns and cinnamon in a small jar. Shake vigorously to combine thoroughly.
Notes: Chinese 5-Spice is made up of equal parts of the five spices, once they are ground. The reason my recipe calls for more of the whole spices is because whole spices are less dense than ground ones. For example, 1 1/2 tbsp of whole fennel seeds= 1 tbsp ground fennel seed.
Do NOT heat the spices on high heat, as they could burn quickly and cause you to choke from the intense fragrance. Also, be careful when grinding the peppercorns. Make sure you have some ventilation to prevent choking. Have a glass of water ready to sip if the peppery smell overpowers you.
UPDATE: If you need a laugh, watch Michael McIntyre rant about the secret lives of the spices in your cupboard (including the apparent arrogance of Chinese 5-Spice). Thank you Allan for this great link!