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We have barely kicked off fall baking season, but does anyone else feel like we’ve already hit peak pumpkin spice? I’ll always love this cozy pumpkin pie spice blend, but by now PS (even without the L) has become thoroughly ubiquitous. And unless it’s Beyonce greeting me everywhere I look, ubiquity gets a little exhausting.

The internet is saturated with recipes that capitalize on the pumpkin spice’s popularity, each one seemingly more ghastly than the last: slow-cooker pumpkin spice lattes (OK, fine), pumpkin spice vinaigrette (but why?), pumpkin spice Jell-O shots (slowly dying), even pumpkin spice moonshine (fully dead).

Related Reading: The Best Pumpkin Spice Snacks of 2020

Luckily, there’s another spice blend with all the toasty seasonal vibes of classic pumpkin spice, but with a unique and unexpected kick. Chinese five spice is traditionally used in savory dishes like char siu pork, five spice roasted duck, and stir fries, but it’s an incredible flavor twist for sweet applications in the fall and winter. Anywhere you’d ordinarily go the route of pumpkin spice, you can swap in Chinese five spice instead.

Which pumpkin spice products are actually good?


What’s in Chinese Five Spice?

Usually, five spice powder includes cinnamon, cloves, fennel, star anise, and Sichuan peppercorns. So there is some overlap with pumpkin spice.

In a conventional pumpkin spice blend, you’ll generally find cinnamon and cloves, as well as ginger, nutmeg, and allspice. Without a doubt, those spices beautifully complement the flavors of pumpkin, winter squash, and even sweet potatoes and carrots.

Chinese five spice, however, is more assertive where pumpkin spice is soft. You’ll find both cloves and cinnamon in a five spice blend too, but that’s where the similarities end. In fact, more traditional recipes for Chinese five spice call for cassia bark, a cousin to the sweeter cinnamon powder we tend to use in the US.

Beyond that, Chinese five spice boasts more heat and a certain beguiling twang, thanks to the fennel seeds, star anise, and peppercorns (which can be Sichuan, black, or white peppercorns). Some blends also add ginger, though then it’s technically a six spice powder.

The Silk Road Chinese Five Spice Blend, $10 on Amazon

This brand's five spice blend includes star anise, fennel, cinnamon, Sichuan peppercorns, cloves, and ginger.
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Although you can find Chinese five spice powder in most grocery and specialty stores, you can also make your own at home. This makes it especially easy to vary your spice choices—playing between Sichuan and black peppercorns, adding ground cassia bark instead of cinnamon if you happen upon some, etc.

What Can You Do with Chinese Five Spice?

What I love about Chinese five spice for seasonal sweets is that it still plays beautifully with all the same treats that pumpkin spice enhances, and shares enough of the same prominent spice flavors (cinnamon and clove) to win over folks who may raise an eyebrow at unfamiliar ingredients. From there, the peppercorns deliver a good-natured kick and add balance to the sweet spices, but stop short of spicy. The anise and fennel lend warmth, but won’t leave your muffins or whipped cream tasting like a black licorice stick. It even makes plain old pumpkin pie taste new again.

Pumpkin Pie with Spiced Crust recipe


If you’re still unsure, there are ways to work Chinese five spice into smaller components of a sweet treat: Sprinkle just a pinch of the blend into cream as you’re whipping it and put the spiced whipped cream on pumpkin or apple pie; add ¼-teaspoon to candied nuts before roasting and then sprinkle the nuts on vanilla ice cream; try a DIY Chinese five spice latte at home; or simply toss your next batch of popcorn in the fragrant powder.

Chinese Five Spice Recipes

Now that you’re ready to jump straight in and up your autumn culinary game with this fragrant and distinctive blend, check out this Five Spice Powder recipe. Then try it in one of these dishes:

Five Spice Glazed Nuts

Five Spice Glazed Nuts recipe


Chinese five spice powder makes for an addictive snack when you use it to coat roasted nuts. We add some powdered sugar, salt, and pepper for extra dimension. Get our Five Spice Glazed Nuts recipe.

Five Spice Ribs with Sticky Rice and Apple Slaw

Five Spice Ribs with Sticky Rice and Apple Slaw recipe

Carolynn Carreño

These sticky-sweet ribs from “Bowls of Plenty” only use a small amount of five spice powder, but you’ll still pick it up, even among the cider vinegar, maple syrup, molasses, and other flavors. The refreshing apple slaw is a great counterpart, but you can also serve them over steamed rice with sauteed veggies. Get our Five Spice Ribs recipe.

Five Spice Pork Chops

Asian Grilled Pork Chop recipe


These five spice pork chops are also treated to a Chinese technique known as velveting, which keeps the meat tender and juicy. Get our Five Spice Pork Chops recipe.

Five Spice Roasted Chicken

Five Spice Roasted Chicken recipe


Change up your usual roast chicken with the addition of five spice powder and serve it with rice, or shred it for a salad. Get our Five Spice Roasted Chicken recipe.

Rice Paper Banh Mi with Five Spice Chicken

Rice Paper Banh Mi with Five Spice Chicken recipe


You can also use the above chicken in these refreshing summer rolls—or take a shortcut by mixing store-bought rotisserie chicken with five spice powder. Get our Rice Paper Banh Mi with Five Spice Chicken recipe.

Taiwanese Popcorn Chicken

Taiwanese popcorn chicken recipe

Sarah Gardner

These extra crunchy nuggets of fried chicken also benefit greatly from an infusion of five spice powder, plus a finishing sprinkle right before you tuck in. Get the Taiwanese Popcorn Chicken recipe.

Five Spice Pork Stir-Fry with Sweet Potatoes and Peas

Chinese Five Spice Stir-Fry recipe


The natural sugars in the sweet potatoes and peas are a great partner to the five spice powder in this recipe. Get our Five Spice Pork Stir-Fry recipe.

Five Spice Pumpkin Pie

Chinese five spice pumpkin pie recipe


This intensely spiced pie is an amazing change of pace from the standard Thanksgiving dessert, but if you’d like the filling to be a bit less punchy, swap in about four teaspoons of your favorite five spice blend instead of making the custom mix here. Get the Five Spice Pumpkin Pie recipe.

Five Spice Cookies

Chinese five spice cookies


Adding five spice powder to simple vanilla sugar cookies is a great way to highlight the complex flavor of the seasoning blend and put a delicious new spin on an old fave, but the aromatic mixture also works wonders in ginger molasses cookies. Mix a pinch into shortbread or brownies too.

Five Spice Chocolate Truffles


And here’s more proof that five spice powder works well in desserts too. Adding some to simple chocolate truffles helps lift the rich flavor while providing warmth and depth. They make a fantastic DIY gift. Get the Five Spice Chocolate Truffles recipe.

Five Spice Hot Chocolate

Five Spice Hot Chocolate recipe


You can even enjoy chocolate and five spice in liquid form. Level up a creamy, cozy mug of hot chocolate with the addition of this warm spice blend and you’re in for a real treat. Get our Five Spice Hot Chocolate recipe.

Related Video: We Still Wouldn’t Turn Down a Homemade Pumpkin Spice Latte, Though

Header image courtesy of Shutterstock.

Kitchen alchemist, home cook sensei. I write about recipes that are way more than the sum of their parts. I'm also the person you call if you're hungry and in Chicago. Follow Jeanelle on Instagram @jeanelleroseoh and find her on Facebook.
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