Chinese cuisine is considered one of the five most influential cuisines of the world, along with Italian, Japanese, Indian, and American - which is closely followed by France and other countries in the Mediterranean.
Here at Barbecues Galore, we love trying food from all over the world and we've found one of the most complex and interesting of spices to be Chinese Five Spice. So, naturally we had to head over to The Silk Road in Inglewood, Calgary (a store that looks gorgeous and smells even better) to get the scoop on the tasty blend - literally, we brought some home with us.
After talking to the freakishly knowledgeable staff, here's what we learned:
- The core five spices that are essential are: star anise, cloves, cinnamon (typically a Chinese variety which comes from the cassia tree native to Southern China), fennel seeds, and Szechuan pepper. The Szechuan pepper, which looks like a typical peppercorn you might see at a grocery store here in Canada, has a slight numbing effect on your tongue after you taste the heat of the pepper.
- There are many new variations of Chinese Five spice powder, based off of the original five ingredients, of course. Most iterations include more than five spices as the blend has evolved overtime by renowned chefs. The most common addition to the classic Chinese Five Spice is a little bit of ginger, as it brings more depth to the flavours. Some also use the zest from a Mandarin orange to substitute cloves.
- Developed in fourth century BCE, Chinese cooks wanted to produce a "wonder powder" encompassing all of the five flavours represented: sweet, sour, salty, pungent (spicy), and bitter. Genius. (Japanese scientists have since discovered the flavours of umami and kokumi - that's right, you have more than just five tastes, but that's information for another time.)
- Around the world, certain foods are thought to have 'yin' or cooling properties that are associated with bitter, sour, or salty flavours, while others have warm, 'yang' properties that correspond with sweet or hot flavours. Nearly all spices are considered to be 'yang' and are thought to warm the body. A particular pungent spice mixture like Chinese Five Spice is usually paired with 'yin' or cooling foods such as noodles, fruit, vegetables, and fatty foods like duck and pork in order to balance the flavours.
So, what is Chinese Five Spice used in?
- As we mentioned above, the rich spice blend makes for an excellent rub on poultry and pork, but also all kinds of seafood too.
- You can also add it to any batter to get an incredibly deep flavour in fried chicken and shrimp.
- Here's something you'll fall in love with: try adding it to the beef-based broth of any soup you plan to make. Their powder form works, but we recommend placing the raw ingredients in and letting them simmer for hours. Doing so will bring out flavours in your soup that you never knew existed.
So, there you have it. You now know a little more about the history of one of the worlds most used spice blends. Learning isn't enough though, try it for yourself, show us what you made and tell us how you think it turned out! Tag us on Facebook or Instagram!
If you have anymore questions about food, you can visit any of our 5 locations across Canada to speak to our exceptional cooks and grill masters. We have two locations in Alberta with our Calgary North and Calgary South locations, as well as 3 across the GTA: Burlington, Oakville & Etobicoke, Ontario.