Chinese five-spice powder is a blend of star anise, cloves, cinnamon, sichuan peppercorns and fennel seeds. It is popularly used as a rub for meats and fish in Chinese cuisine.
The name "five-spice" powder is actually a simplification, as recipes often vary depending on the tastes of the cook. Additional ingredients may be added to or used in place of the five staple spices, including ginger root, nutmeg, turmeric, cardamom, licorice and dried orange peel.
Chinese five-spice powder is valued for its capacity to complement many dishes by marrying the five taste elements of sweet, sour, bitter, pungent and salty. Five-spice powder tastes best when it is made freshly ground from dry-roasted whole seeds, and it pairs especially well with pork. Though it is heavily utilized in Chinese restaurants and gourmet Chinese cooking, many Chinese families do not use it for everyday cooking at home.
Five-spice powder originated as a medicinal treatment. Many of the spices used in the blend have known antiseptic qualities, and it was believed that ingesting the powder would aid digestion and improve the immune system. Five-spice powder is most popular in Southern Chinese cuisine, but is also utilized in Arabic and Polynesian cooking. Many Hawaiian restaurants make a seasoning out of Chinese five-spice powder and salt that is used in place of regular table salt.