The unique five-spice powder is a popular seasoning in Asian cookery; it consists of a mixture of five spices (usually star anise, cloves, cinnamon, Sichuan pepper and ground fennel seeds. This seasoning is used chiefly in Chinese cookery but is also used in other Asian cookery. The precise origins of this popular five-spice powder are not known for sure but there is a theory that the ancient Chinese were attempting to produce a “wonder powder” encircling all of the five elements – wood, fire, earth, metal and water; it also contained five tastes -sour, bitter, sweet, pungent and salty.
The unique flavour of five-spice is perfect to use in stir-fries, soups and any savoury Asian dishes. It works especially well with meats and poultry, and mixed with soy sauce it makes an exceptional marinade for tasty barbecued foods. Remember though that with five-spice a little goes a long way, so do add it sparingly, you can also add more but, once added, it cannot be removed!
The five-spice powder bought today actually more often contains six or seven different spices as it also often contains celery seeds, cumin, nutmeg or ginger. Commercially bottled five-spice powder can be purchased at any local supermarket, however, if you have access to an Asian shop or market the spice mixture on sale there will be more authentic and a lot more inexpensive. However, many commercially produced five-spice powders have some more non-traditional flavour enhancers added to them; ingredients like monosodium glutamate, salt and garlic are often added. To ensure a more authentic five-spice powder it is best if you make your own five-spice mixture; this is not a difficult procedure and once made the powder can be stored in an airtight container (preferably away from direct sunlight.)
Although you can add ingredients or alter amounts to your own personal taste the basic recipe to make an authentic five-spice powder is as follows.
2 teaspoons Szechuan peppercorns (alternatively use ordinary black peppercorns)
8 star anise
1 x 2 inch piece of cinnamon, broken into pieces
2 tablespoons fennel seeds
Making the powder is a quick and simple process and all you will need is a good, dry frying pan (skillet), a grinder (a spice or coffee grinder) or blender and an airtight container in which to store the finished powder.
Simply heat your dry frying pan and add the spices; roast the spices over a moderate heat, moving occasionally for around 3 minutes – or until they give off a fragrant aroma. Then place the roasted spices into your grinder and grind until they form a very fine powder, put the powder through a sieve to make sure that there are no lumps left in it; put into the airtight container and keep in a cupboard away from direct sunlight.
By making your own five-spice powder and by experimenting with the amounts of spices used, you will be able to make a five-spice that suits your, and your family´s, tastes perfectly.