Spice of the month: Five Spice

WHAT IS CHINESE 5 SPICE?

When you feel like a Chinese meal you may think about your local Chinese takeaway, or sit down at a restaurant. But you can create a delicious authentic Chinese meal at home through the use of Chinese 5 Spice mix

Chinese 5 Spice is a mix of spices used in Chinese and Vietnamese cuisine. It is said that each of the 5 spices represents a traditional Chinese food element: sweet, bitter, sour, salty and umami (savouriness). It is thought that the Chinese intended to create a powder representing the five elements of wood, fire, earth, metal and water.

This wonder powder was also thought to achieve a balance between ‘ying’ and ‘yang’ in the ancient Chinese philosophy, and would have been used medicinally by Chinese doctors to treat patients accordingly.

WHAT SPICES ARE IN CHINESE 5 SPICE?

A typical Chinese 5 Spice mix includes cinnamon, fennel seeds, star anise, Szechuan peppercorns and cloves. Other combinations are seen in other South East Asian cuisine.

This blend is fat, gluten and dairy free, plus vegan and vegetarian so it can be used universally in any suitable recipe preparation.

Other combinations of spices are used regionally particularly in Southern China and Vietnam. Typically they could include ginger root, nutmeg, turmeric, cardamom pods, liquorice and Mandarin orange peel. As such, these combinations create a subtly different flavour from the traditional Chinese 5 Spice mix.

WHAT DO THE SPICES IN TRADITIONAL 5 SPICE MIX TASTE LIKE?

Cinnamon  gives a sweet, aromatic and warm undertone

Sichuan Peppercorn has a pungent, citrusy and floral

Cloves which have a sweet, astringent and camphorous flavour

Star Anise suggests a sweet, warm and liquorice flavour

Fennel seeds which are aniseedy, warming and bittersweet.

HEALTH BENEFITS OF CHINESE 5 SPICE

As well as tasting typically Chinese, the spices also have their own health giving properties:-

  • Cinnamon has antioxidants that are thought to slow the ageing process.
  • Fennel seeds are thought to improve heart health and reduce inflammation.
  • Star anise (in a tea) is thought to benefit respiratory infections and certain digestive issues.
  • Szechuan pepper is thought to stimulate the immune system and increase blood circulation.
  • Cloves contain important nutrients that are thought to kill bacteria.

The combination of spices in Chinese 5 spice is thought to promote circulation and stimulate appetite

So when you create your homemade Chinese meal, you’re potentially improving your health as well!

Top Tip

  • Five Spice can be made at home. Buy the individual spices and blend to your own liking.

 

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