Five Spice Powder: What’s the real recipe?
Five Spice Powder is as famous a foreign ingredient can get, while remaining a complete mystery. Most people know what it is, but if you ask them the ingredients, you’ll be greeted with many blank stares, or incomplete answers. The reason is simple, there is no fixed recipe.
In a way, Five Spice is a lot like what Curry Powder is for Indians. Ask any Indian household what curry powder is, and you’ll be quickly told that there are many kinds of different curry powders to suit individual curries. Recipes also vary from house to house, city to city, and state to state! In this regard, Five Spice is very similar. Recipes vary from household to household and province to province. In some special cases, such as in Sichuan Province, entire ingredients are different (they prefer to substitute Fennel Seeds / Ginger for Sichuan Peppercorns)!
But what goes of the household brands that sell the blend in supermarkets? How do they cater to the masses? Upon even just the most basic investigation, we find that there is no consensus at all. Not only do recipes vary tremendously, but often the most unexpected ingredients such as Cardamom and even cornflour (!) make an appearance, most likely to save on cost. We also noticed that certain staple ingredients such as Cloves are normally missing, due to their high price. These tend to be substituted with ordinary cumin seeds, pepper, liquorice or other odd items. To add to the curiousness, many supermarkets in our local market of Hong Kong, didn’t sell the blend at all!
Two of the most popular Five Spice Powder blends on the market:
…often the most unexpected ingredients such as Cardamom and even cornflour (!) make an appearance, most likely to save on cost.
Our next goal was to reproduce the ideal recipe, assuming cost was no issue. Although some sources on the web pointed towards True Cinnamon being used for Five Spice, this we quickly dismissed – China hasn’t consumed True Cinnamon in large quantities ever, as they much prefer to their local flavour of the spice, Cassia. We quickly found that Star Anise, Cassia, Fennel Seeds and Cloves were essential ingredients for all Five Spice blends, regardless of where you were in China. The last ingredient varies by province to province.
In the Southern parts of China, Ginger root and Mandarin Orange Peel are often preferred, probably due to the fact that this is where they originate from. Other parts of China use Sichuan Peppers, Chinese Black Cardamom, and even Galangal. But we were on the journey for the most preferred taste. After countless taste tests, and more research, we landed on our target: Chinese Ginger Roots. The reason turned out to be much simpler than expected: Ginger is one of the most popular ingredients in Chinese cooking, and also contributes a key flavour to the blend, not found in the other ingredients. Citrus. Ginger is also extremely popular in other regions where Five Spice is used: Vietnam, Indonesia, and other Asian countries all make heavy use of Ginger in regular cooking.
Five Spice Powder, final ingredients list:
Method: Grind them all together fresh, and use as you would any other spice. Each serving should be around 0.5 grams. Personalise the ratio to suit your taste, that’s the spirit of Five Spice Powder.
We are still looking for foodies who are interested in helping us reach our goal of the perfect recipe. Regency is exhibiting at the Hong Kong Food Expo from 14th-18th August. We invite all foodies to try out free samples of our five spice blend and share their opinions.