Five Spice Powder Explained

Certain spice blends have survived the test of time due to their distinct and memorable flavors, and one with noteworthy health benefits is Five Spice Powder.  As the name suggests, this powder is made from five spices.  However, little is known about the origin of this ancient blend except the spices themselves, namely Star Anise, Sichuan Pepper, Fennel, Cloves and Cinnamon.  This article explores the health benefits of these five spices.


Note that while many theorize that the spices themselves correspond to the five flavors, after much research the author concluded that this is simply not true. Consider these factors regarding Five Spice Powder:


  1. There are no salty components.
  2. There are three sweet components (Clove, Fennel, Cinnamon).
  3. There are only four flavors (Sweet, Sour, Salty and Bitter), unless we count “new” flavors such as Pungent, Savory and the unfortunately named Umami (which yes, is pronounced “Ooh mommy” and is “that MSG flavor”), but then it would be Seven Spice Powder!


Ingredients in Five Spice powder

Note: the following are typically ground fresh shortly before serving and mixed in roughly equal amounts:


1) Star AniseIllicum verum (Illiciaceae or Schisandraceae)

Native to China, India and Vietnam (and not related to but having a similar licorice flavor as anise seed), star anise is the fruit (seedpods) of an evergreen tree growing up to 60 feet tall.  Containing the volatile oils anethole, methylchaviocol and safrole, star anise is known as “8 horned fennel” in Chinese medicine.  Used as a remedy for rheumatism, to relieve muscle spasms, back pain and digestive problems, star anise is also used for toothache.  Star anise has diuretic and anti-inflammatory properties.


2) Sichuan Peppercorn – Zanthoxylum piperitum (Rutaceae)

Sichuan pepper (related to Japanese pepper) is not from the pepper family (Piperaceae) but rather is the seed of an ash tree from the citrus family.  Likewise, the spiciness in Sichuan pepper is caused by a different type of chemical (hydroxy-alpha sanshool)  than the one black pepper contains (piperine). Sichuan pepper also consists of other alkaloids, flavonoids, lignanes and terpenoids. Sichuan pepper is used to treat toothaches, to boost the immune system, as a blood purifier and a digestive aid. Sichuan pepper has carminative and anti-spasmodic properties.


3) Fennel (seed) – Foeniculum vulgare (Umbelliferae)

A perennial with yellow flowers that originated on the shores of the Mediterranean, fennel seeds contain several important antioxidants including anethole, kaempherol, quercetin, and rutin.  They provide fiber, folate, potassium and Vitamin C.  Fennel strengthens the immune system, helps treat colon cancer, and reduces blood pressure.  Fennel helps combat the toxic effect of food additives.  Fennel has antimicrobial, antibacterial, and anti-tumor properties.


4) Clove – Eugenia caryophyllus (myrtaceae)

Native to Indonesia, the clove is a bud of an evergreen tree.  The fourth most expensive spice by weight, clove contains the volatile oil eugenol, an antioxidant that is commonly used as a topical pain reliever for toothaches.  Also used as a sore throat spray, to treat joint pain, and to reduce skin inflammation, clove even helps fight stomach cancer.  Clove has antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties.


5) Cinnamon – Cinnamomum verum (Lauraceae)

Also native to Indonesia and imported into Egypt as early as 2000 BC, cinnamon is the inner bark of dozens of species of trees from the genus Cinnamomum. Cinnamon contains the powerful antioxidants cinnamaldehyde, cinnamyl acetate, and cinnamyl alcohol and also provides manganese, fiber, iron and calcium.  Along with fighting cancer of the blood and reducing blood clots, cinnamon boosts memory, fights arthritis, lowers cholesterol, treats diabetes, and regulates blood sugar levels.  Cinnamon has antibacterial properties.

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Turkish-style Turkey with Salsa and Rice


  • 1 lb ground organic turkey
  • 1/4 cup fresh Parsley, chopped
  • 2 Tbsp Five Spice powder
  • 1 cup Jasmine rice
  • 1/2 cup fresh salsa
  • Lemon wedges
  • Fresh yogurt
  • Dill



  • Mix 1 Tbsp 5 spice powder and 2 Tbsp chopped parsley with 1 lb turkey and form patties.
  • Mix 2 cups distilled or filtered water and 1 cup rice, bring to a boil and simmer 10 minutes.
  • As rice cooks, grill patties in cast iron on medium heat, about 3-5 minutes per side or until browned.
  • Remove rice from heat and let stand 5 minutes before fluffing with fork.
  • Add 1 Tbsp Five Spice powder to rice and mix.
  • Serve turkey patties with rice, yogurt (with a dash of dill), and fresh salsa.
  • Garnish with lemon wedges and sprig of parsley.

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