Chinese Herbs and Spices - dummies

By Martin Yan

The Chinese have a long tradition of using herbs and spices to boost a dish’s flavor (and provide nutritional benefits). You can now find many Chinese herbs and spices at supermarkets and specialty food stores. For Chinese culinary creations, you can’t go wrong with these Chinese herbs and spices:

  • Chinese five-spice powder: The Chinese have long believed that the number five has special curative and healing powers, which is why this light cocoa-colored powder originally contained five specific spices.

    Nowadays, five-spice powder contains quite a few more spices including cinnamon, star anise, fennel, clove, ginger, licorice, Sichuan peppercorn, and dried tangerine peel.

  • Chinese hot mustard: A condiment with a pungent, horseradish-like fieriness. Chinese hot mustards are available already prepared or in powdered form.

  • Ginger: This pale golden, knobby, hand-shaped rhizome (it’s not actually a root) has the perfect combination of enchanting aroma, spicy bite, and natural sweetness. Choose ginger that is hard, heavy, and free of wrinkles and mold.

  • Sichuan peppercorns: Black peppercorns are no substitute for these dried, reddish brown berries with a unique woodsy fragrance and pleasantly numbing tang. In fact, the two aren’t even related.

    Get the most flavor out of your Sichuan peppercorns by toasting them in a dry frying pan over low heat until they become fragrant, and then add them to your recipe. You can work with either whole peppercorns or ones that are crushed to a powder.

  • Star anise: These approximately 1-inch, star-shaped pods have points, each containing a shiny, mahogany-colored seed. Star anise has a licorice flavor.