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The Science of Chinese Five Spice Powder

If you want to add an Asian accent to a dish, there are three ingredients, any one of which will do the job: Hoisin sauce, sesame oil, and five spice powder. Five Spice Powder is a blend of cinnamon, cloves, fennel, star anise, and Szechwan peppercorns. Some recipes also contain ginger, nutmeg, and licorice. If you don't want to bother making your own, it is available in the spice or Asian section of better super markets, and Penzeys.com has a good one and so does AsianFoodGrocer.com.

As background for this recipe, please read my article on the Science of Rubs.

Basic Recipe

1 tablespoon cinnamon powder

1 tablespoon clove powder

1 tablespoon fennel seed powder

1 tablespoon Szechwan peppercorn powder

1 tablespoon star anice powder

Optional. Some commercial blends can't count and add black pepper, ginger, nutmeg, and licorice. I usually add 1 teaspoon each of ginger and nutmeg.

Method

If you have only whole cloves, fennel seed, Szechwan peppercorns, or star anise, you can grind them in a spice grinder or a mortar and pestle. I use a coffee grinder. Whole seeds grind down to much less volume, so use about 1.5 times the quantity before grinding. In other words, if you don't have fennel seed powder, start with 1 1/2 tablespoons of fennel seeds, and grind them to powder. You might need 2 tablespoons of star anise seeds to make 1 tablespoon of powder. You don't have to be precise in making this blend.

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