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BEST Chinese Five-Spice Substitutes + 3 To Avoid

I’ve personally taste-tested a variety of Chinese five-spice powder substitutes to find the best one for every cooking occasion.

Whether you’re on the hunt for the closest flavor match, in need of a last-minute pantry swap, or want a substitute that fits your diet, I’ve got the answers.

The best substitute for Chinese five-spice is making it from scratch with cinnamon, star anise, Sichuan peppercorns, fennel seeds, and cloves. For a cheats version, simplify the mix to cinnamon, star anise, and black peppercorns. Garam masala and allspice are great pre-mixed stand ins.

Ready? Let’s jump right in.

The experiment

I made small batches of sticky chicken drumsticks to try different five-spice powder substitutes. (psst… I also have a great article on sides to serve with chicken drumsticks).

Five-spice powder has been a staple in Chinese cuisine for centuries.

As the name suggests, the traditional recipe is made up of five basic spices. Although commercial versions often have extra ingredients.

It’s prized for its perfect balance of sweet, savory, sour, salty, and bitter flavors, as well as it’s versatility. It’s used a lot in Asian sauces and marinades, but you’ll also find it in deserts!

In terms of taste, I would describe it as warm from the cinnamon, with liquorice undertones from the fennel and anise. The peppercorns add a subtle heat.

This spice blend’s flavor is super unique, so finding an exact-match substitute was challenging. But I did find a few decent alternatives. 

Here are the substitutes I tested and the verdicts:

SubstitutesSubstitute DirectionsVerdict
Homemade Five-Spice PowderReplace in a 1:1 ratio10/10
AllspiceReplace in a 1:1 ratio8/10
Garam MasalaReplace in a 1:1 ratio8/10
Cinnamon + Star Anise + Black PepperReplace in a 1:1 ratio6/10
Ras el HanoutReplace in a 1:1 ratio7/10
BaharatReplace in a 1:1 ratio7/10
Tunisian Five-Spice PowderReplace in a 1:1 ratio6/10
CinnamonReplace with 1/4 the amount6/10

Common uses of Chinese five-spice powder

Here are some popular ways to use Chinese five-spice powder and the best substitutes for those situations:

  • For marinades and dry rubs: Try using the homemade version, allspice, or garam masala. If you don’t mind a flavor change, try other spice blends like ras el hanout, baharat, or Tunisian-five spice powder. 
  • For soups, stews, and casseroles: Try using the homemade version, allspice, or garam masala. 
  • For desserts and baked goods: Try using the homemade version, allspice, or cinnamon.

Homemade five-spice powder

The best substitute for Chinese five-spice is none other than your homemade version

Five-spice is a blend of – you guessed it – five key ingredients: star anise, Sichuan peppercorns, fennel seeds, cinnamon, and cloves.

But did you know you can add more spices to customize your blend? Common additions include liquorice root and ginger powder for a warmer, more complex flavor. 

The recipe I followed (video below) suggested toasting the spices before grinding them. 

It might seem like a hassle, but this simple step helps release the oils in the spices, adding a whole new depth of flavor. 

Psst… always opt for whole spices over pre-ground ones for the best flavor.

How to substitute: replace store-bought five-spice in a 1:1 ratio with homemade five-spice powder.


I thought allspice was a mix of spices like five-spice, but turns out I was wrong!

It’s actually derived from a single berry, but its complex flavor makes it seem as though several spices have been artfully combined. 

It has a warm, rich flavor similar to five-spice.

There are strong hints of cinnamon and nutmeg, with peppery, savory notes to bring everything together.

The only thing that’s missing is the characteristic umami of Chinese five-spice. You can fix this with a pinch f MSG powder (if you have it).

But I just added a pinch of MSG powder to my marinade to fill the void! 

How to substitute: replace five-spice in a 1:1 ratio with allspice, then add MSG to taste.

Garam masala

Let me introduce you to Garam Masala. 

This Indian spice blend includes more spices than its Chinese counterpart, including cloves, mace, cinnamon, cardamom, mustard seeds, coriander seeds, peppercorns, and nutmeg. It’s just missing star anise!

It has an earthier flavor then Chinese five-spice, with a more prominent sweetness.

But its complexity makes it a decent substitute.

To counteract the sweetness, you can try adding slightly more sour ingredients to your dish like rice vinegar or lemon juice.

Psst… lots of people think of garam marsala as curry powder, but it’s not spicy.

How to substitute: replace five-spice in a 1:1 ratio with garam masala.

Cinnamon + star anise + fresh black pepper

If sourcing the 5 spices you need for a homemade Chinese five-spice mix proves challenging, you can simplify it and just use a mix of cinnamon, star anise, and black pepper.

Most blogs I read suggested only cinnamon and star anise, but black pepper is a really common ingredient most people will have to hand.

And it helps replicate the pungency you’d usually get with Sichuan peppercorns. 

Start with equal parts cinnamon and star anise, then add a pinch of black pepper.

How to substitute: replace Chinese five-spice in a 1:1 ratio with a mixture of cinnamon, star anise, and black pepper.

Ras el hanout

We’re slightly veering away from Chinese five-spice powder here, but this Moroccan seasoning blend is a solid alternative if it’s all you can find. 

It offers a rich flavor profile that combines warm, woody spices with sweet and bitter notes.

The mix often contains more than 30 spices!! With cinnamon, anise, peppercorns among them. Other prominent flavors include ginger, coriander, and cardamon.

It tasted absolutely fabulous with my chicken, and i’m glad I now have a bottle in my cupboard.

How to substitute: replace Chinese five-spice in a 1:1 ratio with Ras el Hanout.


This Middle Eastern blend, also known as the Lebanese seven-spice is thoroughly under-appreciated.

It contains cinnamon and cloves, which give it a warmth that’ll remind you of five-spice. 

And the other spices: coriander, paprika, cumin, and cardamom add more sweetness and a delicious smoky twist. 

The good news is Baharat is just as versatile as five-spice powder.

It worked wonders with my drumsticks, but you can also use it with any protein or even as a finishing touch to your stews. 

How to substitute: replace Chinese five-spice in a 1:1 ratio with Baharat.

Tunisian five-spice powder

Tunisian five-spice powder is another unique alternative you can consider to replace Chinese five-spice. 

It also uses cloves and cinnamon, giving it a warm sweetness similar to Chinese five-spice. 

But what sets this Tunisian version apart is the addition of malagueta peppers, which will bring a bit of heat to your dish. 

Finding Tunisian five-spice might be a bit tricky, but you might have some luck in an African grocery store.

How to substitute: replace Chinese five-spice in a 1:1 ratio with Tunisian five-spice powder. 


If you’re in a real pinch and can only use one spice, I would recommend going for cinnamon.

You can use it in sweet and savory dishes, and it will replicate the warmth of five-spice.

Only use a small amount though! Or the flavor will get overhwhelming.

How to substitute: replace Chinese five-spice with a 1/4 the amount of ground cinnamon.

Substitutes to avoid

I cam across loads of suggestions for Chinese five-spice powder substitutes while I was researching, but not all of them worked out.

The following are options are one I don’t recommend you use in place of Chinese five-spice powder: 

  • Dill weed + cinnamon – I didn’t think this was a good pairing. Dill weed has a fresh, citrusy taste that could clash with cinnamon’s warm notes. Save the dill weed for your potato salads instead.
  • Za’atar – this spice blend is delicious but tastes very different from five-spice. It’s prominently herby, with bright, citrus undertones.
  • Using individual spices – most websites suggested using either one of the five spices, but none of them will give the same depth of flavor as five-spice when used alone. Try at least blending two or three of the five spices to get a better-tasting alternative.

How to make Chinese 5-spice powder

Always opt for whole spices and grind them yourself for the best flavor. Pre-ground spices will be a lot more mild, but you can sub them in if needed.


  • 7 whole star anise (or 1 heaped tbsp ground star anise)
  • 1 stick cinnamon (or 1 tbsp ground cinnamon)
  • 12 whole cloves (or 1/3 teaspoon of ground cloves)
  • 1 tbsp fennel seeds (or 1 tbsp fennel powder)
  • 1 tbsp Sichuan peppercorns (substitute with ground white or black pepper)


  1. Place the cinnamon, cloves, and star anise in a dry frying pan and toast over medium-high heat for 1-2 minutes.
  2. Add the fennel seeds and Sichuan peppercorns and toast for a further 2-3 minutes.
  3. Remove the spice from the heat and set them aside to cool
  4. Use a spice grinder to grind the spices to a powder.
  5. Store in an airtight container.

What type of cinnamon to use in Chinese five-spice

There are actually a two different types of cinnamon! Chinese cinnamon, also known as Cassia cinnamon, and Ceylon cinnamon.

Chinese five-spice traditionally uses Chinese cinnamon as one of its key ingredients.

Chinese cinnamon has a stronger, more robust and slightly bitter flavor compared to Ceylon cinnamon.

Luckily for us in the west, Chinese cinnamon is cheaper and so it makes up the bulk of what is commercially sold. And even if you do only have Ceylon cinnamon on hand, you can still use this in your homemade Chinese 5-spice.

7 Best Chinese Five-Spice Substitutes + 3 To Avoid

I tested loads of Chinese five-spice powder substitutes to find the best one. I also provided an easy homemade version you can try.
5 from 1 vote
Print Pin Rate
Course: Ingredient
Cuisine: Chinese
Keyword: chinese five spice substitutes, substitutes for chinese five-spice
Prep Time: 5 minutes
Cook Time: 10 minutes
Total Time: 15 minutes
Servings: 30 servings
Calories: 1kcal


  • 7 whole star anise
  • 1 stick cinnamon
  • 12 cloves
  • 1 tbsp whole fennel seeds
  • 1 tsp whole Sichuan peppercorns


  • Place the star anise, cinnamon, and cloves in a dry frying pan. Over medium heat, toast the spices and keep stirring and shaking them to avoid burning. This should take about 4-5 minutes. Add the fennel and the Sichuan peppercorns, but only toast them for 2-3 minutes.
  • Transfer the toasted spices into your spice grinder and blitz until fine. You can sieve the powder to filter any large pieces. Transfer to a clean, lidded jar.


other options: allspice, garam masala, cinnamon + star anise + black pepper, ras al hanout, baharat, tunisian five-spice powder


Serving: 1tsp | Calories: 1kcal

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