Chinese five-spice powder is a popular and potent spice mix used in various Asian dishes. In China, its usage is limited mostly to restaurants and it is not a household staple in most regions; however, it does play a major role throughout Uyghur cuisine. It should be noted that just as with many other Asian spice mixes, there is no one specific recipe for five-spice powder. Uyghur five-spice powder blends are different depending on the location and can even differ by household as cooks may alter blends to suit their own tastes or those of their families.
If you are a fan of Chinese duck or pork dishes, then it is a good idea to keep Chinese five-spice powder in your cabinet at all times but the good news is that you do have some options if you run out. Many of the alternatives to Chinese five-spice powder can be found in the spice section of most supermarkets.
Your best bet: Make your own five-spice powder
Simply combine Szechuan peppercorns, cinnamon, and clove along with fennel and anise to make your own five-spice blend using a spice grinder. Throw equal amounts of these spices into the grinder. In Southern China, orange peel is a popular addition so you can consider including that as well. Black pepper and ground ginger are two more spices that feature in many blends. Note that while you can try mixing the ingredients in equal amounts, you should feel free to play around with different proportions and adjust the blend to taste.
A decent second choice: Cinnamon and star anise
These two spices dominate the flavor of the most common five-spice blends and can make an acceptable substitute on their own. If you feel that the aftertaste of star anise is too bitter for your liking, consider replacing it with allspice as some cooks consider it a sweeter spice. Ginger or cassia are both acceptable substitutes for the cinnamon.
In a pinch: Fennel seeds and Szechuan peppercorns
Like star anise, fennel seeds have a taste that is similar to licorice and contribute much to the distinctive flavor of five-spice powder. The Szechuan peppercorns are another common ingredient and can provide a spicy bite to complement the sweetness of the fennel seeds.
One of the key things to remember about Chinese five-spice powder is that its ingredients are meant to encompass the five flavors: sour and bitter along with salty, sweet, and pungent. As such, you can use other spices to represent each of those flavors.
A combination of cayenne pepper, cinnamon, and ground cloves can be a workable substitute for five-spice powder as it covers most of the five. Another option is to do away with powdered spices altogether. Instead, add a splash of sambuca to your dish. Sambuca is an anise-flavored liqueur that can provide some of the flavor associated with five-spice.