Chinese cooking and the use of spices are inseparable. Some may only be found in their country of origin, while others are easy to find in local markets. Their taste and aroma can vary from spicy flavours that ignite your taste buds, to appetising sweet aromas. Before you experiment with them, we want to help you get to know these 6 essential spices.
Five-spice powder (ngo hiong)
This powder, as the mainstay of Chinese cuisine, is a perfect mixture of five common spices: star anise, cloves, chinese cinnamon, andaliman, and fennel seeds. In addition to providing a balance of sweet, sour, bitter, spicy and salty in cooking, the five-spice powder also helps you serve dishes based on the principle of yin and yang. This powder is ideal for seasoning meat-based dishes such as chicken, duck, fish, or shrimp.
Licorice root/sweet root (gan cao)
This spice – as the name suggests – has a sweet taste similar to fennel seeds and is easily recognised by its rod-like and jointed shape. Because of its hard and fibrous texture, simply use its liquid as a mixture to your cooking. One type of dish that often utilises the flavour of licorice roots is braised beef tendons with licorice root.
Andaliman (hua jiao)
You can identify good andaliman from its bright colour and seedless texture. Its subtle yet sharp aroma will not smell unusual because it resembles the scent of citrus. This spice, being one of the members of five-spice powder, has a ‘biting’ spicy flavour that numbs your tongue. Crush this spice and mix into sauces, stews, or other marinated dishes to produce the best spicy flavour. Examples of dishes that use andaliman are dan dan mian and mapo tofu.
Chinese mustard (jie mo)
Commonly used in Chinese cooking, this mustard is in the form of dark yellowish powder. It tastes similar to horseradish or wasabi: spicy and eye-watering. Mustard is suitable as a main ingredient in making sauce that accompanies egg rolls, fried shrimp, or jiozi (thick-skinned Chinese dumplings containing chopped meat and vegetables).
Chinese cinnamon (gui pi/rou gui)
Unlike the usual cinnamon, chinese cinnamon has a thicker texture like tree bark, reddish colour, and delicate aroma. The resulting flavour is sweet with a touch of spicy-savoury. The type of dishes that commonly use this spice are desserts, soups, or other slow-cooked dishes. Remember to mix only a little bit of chinese cinnamon in your cooking to avoid an overwhelming flavour. One example of a dish with chinese cinnamon is chinese cinnamon beef noodle.
Black cardamom (hei dou kou)
Its bean shape and hint of ‘smoky fragrance’ due to the on-the-fire drying method are two inherent characteristics of this spice. Used to strengthen spicy flavour, black cardamom is essential for dishes prepared using the Sichuan red-cooked method. Additionally, this powdery spice can also be used to season raw meat or make a condiment for meat – especially beef.
Although each spice has its own flavour characteristics, you can mix a few to create a uniquely delicious taste that’ll keep your customers from getting bored. Also, make sure you know your customers’ preferences. Now, go ahead and experiment with these 6 special spices!