· Food For Thought
Chinese Five Spice Powder

Chinese Five Spice

I like Chinese Five Spice Powder. Always have. It's complex, flexible and just a teensy bit exotic. To get the skinny on this spice I wandered down to Calgary's The Silk Road in Inglewood. A store that looks gorgeous and smells even better. These folks know a freakish amount about spices. Here's what they told me about Five Spice Powder:

  • There are many variations of Chinese Five spice powder. Most iterations include more than five spices (apparently labelling laws in ancient China were notoriously lax). The five spices that are more or less essential are: star anise (my twelve year old was disappointed to hear that this is pronounced 'a-niece'. Oh well, at least he still has the seventh planet from the sun), cloves, cinnamon (typically the Chinese variety which is ground bark of the cassia tree), fennel seeds and Szechuan pepper. The Szechuan pepper, which looks like a typical peppercorn, has a slight numbing effect on your tongue after you taste the heat of the pepper.
  • There are theories that the Chinese were attempting to produce a "wonder powder" encompassing all of the five elements represented through the five flavours: sour, bitter, sweet, pungent and salty. In later years, similar Asian thinking about combining five elements would give rise to the 'Power Rangers' and various headache-inducing Cantopop groups.
  • In China, certain foods are thought to have 'yin' or cooling properties, while others have warm, 'yang' properties. Nearly all spices are considered to be 'yang' and are thought to warm the body. A particular pungent spice mixture like Five-Spice is usually paired with 'yin' or cooling foods such as noodles, fruit, vegetables or, the always cool, duck. Keep reading for more about duck and five-spice...