If you need Chinese 5 Spice Powder in a recipe, but don’t have any on hand, you’re in luck! There are many great substitutes that can give your food that same delicious flavor. Here are some of the best substitutes including garam masala, allspice, pumpkin pie spice, Chinese cinnamon with cloves, baharat, ras el hangout, and za’atar.

ingredients for chinese five spice powder on table.

Overview of 5 Spice Powder 

If you love Chinese cuisine you’ll be familiar with the wonderfully warm flavor of five-spice powder, also known as Chinese spice blend.

It is traditionally made with a blend of five delicious spices:

  • Star anise – slightly sweet with notes of licorice
  • Fennel seeds – with a mild anise flavor
  • Cloves – rich and spicy
  • Cinnamon – sweet with woody notes
  • Sichuan peppercorns – mild, with hints of lemon (also known as Szechuan peppercorns or black peppercorns)

This blend brings together the five elements of flavor popular in Chinese food – sweet, sour, salty, bitter, and umami.

In Chinese tradition, this combination symbolizes harmony and represents the five elements – wood, fire, earth, metal, and water.

The blend is also linked to Chinese medicine – its perfect balance promoting well-being –  and is believed to bring good fortune when given as a gift and used in recipes.


While five-spice powder is used as a seasoning in small amounts, it still contributes trace amounts of nutrients to the dishes it flavors. 

It provides valuable antioxidants, plus a small amount of iron from the star anise.  

Potential Health Benefits

Studies have shown that the spices from which five-spice powder is composed have many health benefits. 

Cinnamon has anti-inflammatory properties and can help reduce oxidative stress. This means it can protect your body from harmful substances called “free radicals”. 

Sichuan pepper has an anti-inflammatory effect on the body, too, and has antioxidative, antibacterial, and anti-obesity properties.

Star anise shares similar properties, plus it has hypolipidemic effects, which means it can help reduce the levels of cholesterol and triglycerides in the blood. This helps support your heart health and lowers the risk of cardiovascular disease.

Fennel seeds, meanwhile, may have anti-cancer properties, and cloves are particularly rich sources of antioxidants.

For the most potential health benefits, try to use whole spices that are fresh. Use a coffee grinder or spice grinder to create a fine powder and make your own spice mixes (ideally heat them up first in a dry pan to bring out the complex flavor profile).

Cooking With 5 Spice Powder

The warm, complex flavor of five-spice powder works well in a variety of dishes. It is often used as a marinade for roasted pork, duck, and chicken, or added to soups and stews to enrich their flavor.

Five-spice powder adds another dimension to vegetable dishes, vegetarian stir-fries, and tofu, and can even supply a unique twist of flavor to spiced cookies and cakes.

It’s also a favorite during the holiday season, when it brings rich spicy notes to mulled wine!

Always keep your five-spice powder in an airtight container in a cool, dark place. This helps preserve its potent flavor.

Best Substitutes for 5 Spice

If you need Chinese five-spice powder for a recipe but have none to hand, there are several great alternatives you can try.

Let’s take a look at each and see how they compare in Chinese cooking and Chinese recipes.

1. Garam Masala

garam masala in tin.
Garam masala.

Garam masala isn’t an individual spice – instead, it’s a blend of spices. 

Just like Chinese five-spice powder, it is designed to bring balance to the body, and is believed by some to help aid digestion, regulate blood pressure, increase nutrient absorption, and even boost metabolism.

It’s a warm and tasty combination that works wonderfully with many meats, soups, and stews.

Ingredients can vary but garam masala usually contains clove, cinnamon, black pepper, coriander, and nutmeg. The resulting blend is a little less sweet than five-spice powder, although you can mitigate this by adding a little extra cinnamon.

See my garam masala recipe.

Garam masala lacks the licorice flavor of the star anise and fennel in Chinese five-spice powder. Either add your own, or look for a version made with fennel seeds. Overall, though, it’s a very good substitute for savory dishes.

To substitute one teaspoon of five-spice powder, use one teaspoon of garam masala.

2. Allspice

Allspice may sound like another spice blend, but it’s actually a single Caribbean spice made from allspice berries.

It’s one of my favorite substitutes for five-spice powder as it has a strong taste of cloves, nutmeg, and cinnamon.

It is comparable in terms of nutrition – containing lots of antioxidants – and is particularly good when used to season pork, chicken, soups, and stews. 

Allspice is delicious in baked goods and desserts, too, from apple pie to chocolate mousse due to its sweet notes.

To substitute one teaspoon of five-spice powder, use one teaspoon of allspice.

3. Pumpkin Pie Spice

Pumpkin Pie Spice in a jar.

Pumpkin pie spice may not taste just like Chinese five-spice powder, but it’s widely available and a convenient substitute in a pinch.

Most versions contain a mixture of cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, cloves, and occasionally allspice. The result is sweet and delicious but lacks the licorice notes of star anise and fennel, and the bite of the Sichuan pepper.

It is best suited to sweet dishes like baked goods and desserts, although it can add an interesting twist to savory recipes too if you love that sweet/savory flavor profile.

To substitute one teaspoon of five-spice powder, use one teaspoon of pumpkin spice.

4. Chinese Cinnamon (Cassia) with Cloves

cinnamon sticks on table.

If you’re preparing a dish where you want the cinnamon flavor of five-spice powder to stand out, try substituting it with a simple blend of Chinese cinnamon and cloves.

Chinese cinnamon – also known as cassia – is the type found in five-spice powder. This is the variety you’ll most commonly find at the grocery store and it has the intense, slightly bitter flavor you’ll need. 

This contrasts with Ceylon ground cinnamon, another type you may encounter, that is a little more expensive and has a much more delicate taste. 

To substitute one teaspoon of five-spice powder, use ¾  teaspoon of ground Chinese cinnamon with ¼ teaspoon of ground cloves

5. Baharat

Baharat is a slightly sweet Middle-Eastern spice mixture typically made with black pepper, coriander, paprika, cardamom, nutmeg, cumin, cloves, and sometimes cinnamon. 

While it doesn’t have the anise notes of five-spice powder, it adds a wonderfully complex warmth to dishes.

I find it works well in all sorts of recipes, from meat dishes and soups to stews and vegetables. It’s a great alternative for Chinese dishes as well.

To substitute one teaspoon of five-spice powder, use one teaspoon of Baharat.

6. Ras el Hanout

Ras el Hanout is a Moroccan spice blend. There’s no one recipe for this particular mixture and some versions contain up to 80 different spices.

Interestingly, its name translates to “Head of the Shop”, meaning it represents a blend of the seller’s finest spices!

Most mixes are made with a tasty base of nutmeg, cardamom, pepper, mace, cloves, turmeric, and anise, so they come pretty close to the complex flavors of Chinese five-spice powder.

Ras el hanout is perfect for meat and vegetable dishes and is a great way to add depth and a little heat and spicy flavors to your dishes.

To substitute one teaspoon of five-spice powder, use one teaspoon of Ras el Hanout.

7. Za’atar

Last but not least on my list of alternatives to five-spice powder is the Middle-Eastern herb and spice mix za’atar.

It is quite different to five-spice powder, primarily made with the key ingredients of thyme, oregano, sumac, salt, and sesame seeds. But its citrussy flavor with sweet, woody notes is compelling, giving your dishes a unique but wonderful twist.

Try it in your meat, vegetable, or chicken dishes, or add a little to soups and dips. Just remember that it is more potent than five-spice powder, so start with a little and add more as required.

To substitute one teaspoon of five-spice powder, use 1/3 teaspoon of za’atar.


I hope you’ve found this guide useful and have fun experimenting to discover your perfect five-spice powder substitute. For the closest flavor, I recommend garam masala (with a dash of extra cinnamon) or allspice. But if you want to change up your savory recipes, give baharat, ras el hangout, or za’atar a try – you may be pleasantly surprised by the new dimension they add to your dishes.

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About the Author: Carrie Forrest has a master’s degree in public health with a specialty in nutrition. She is a top wellness and food blogger with over 5 million annual visitors to her site. Carrie has an incredible story of recovery from chronic illness and is passionate about helping other women transform their health. Send Carrie a message through her contact form.