A Chinese five-spice mixture commonly includes peppercorns, star anise, cloves, cinnamon and fennel seeds. Begin by toasting the whole spices in a dry pan to intensify their flavors. After they have cooled, grind them together to a fine powder and store the blend in an air-tight container.
Although the five-spice mixture is originally from China, it has spread to many countries, and each area has different ways of preparing the mixture. This spice blend is especially popular in India and Southeast Asia. Southern cuisines may substitute dried mandarin peel for the cloves or replace the fennel seeds with liquorice or anise seeds. Indian cooks like to use turmeric or cardamom to replace one or two of the above ingredients. Nutmeg, ginger and galangal are other common variants.
Chinese five-spice powder has many applications, but, according to About.com, it has a very strong flavor and tastes best when used in moderation. It works well as a dry rub for fatty meats or as an addition to marinades. A light sprinkle of the powder can add extra flavor to many savory soups and sauces. It even goes well with deserts such as poached fruit, cakes or Christmas cookies, explains McCormick Spice Company.