五香與十三香 Five Spices and Thirteen Spices
The Five Spices plays an essential role in Chinese cuisine. This is literally a must have if you wish to broaden your Chinese cooking experience. You may find many recipes call for Five Spices for various purposes. If you do not live in Asia, any Asian supermarket in your region shall have this product. Nowadays it is even common to spot a jar of Five Spices powder on shelf in many European supermarkets. To buy Five Spices, you can choose between spices packed in small packages or ground powder.
The flavor profile of “Five Spices” is built with Chinese cinnamon, fennel seeds, cloves, star anise, and Sichuan peppercorn. “Five” is also a metaphor for “multiple” or “various,” meaning there can be more than five ingredients in a Five Spices combination. Different regions in China, restaurants, commercial brands all have their own tweak and mix of Five Spices. Very often some of the following spices: dried ginger(乾薑), cardamom(荳蔻), licorice(甘草), aged tangerine peel(陳皮), coriander seeds(香菜子), or cumin(孜然) are also selected for Five Spices product.
If toping up Five Spices ingredients with nutmeg(肉蔻), aged tangerine peel (陳皮), fructus amomi (砂仁), angelica dahurica (白芷), Rosa banksiae (木香), Alpinia zerumbet (月桃 a.k.a. 良薑), Kaempferia galanga (a.k.a. sand ginger 三奈), Amomum cardamomum (白蔻) you will have Thirteen Spices (十三香), another very widely used condiment in Chinese kitchens. Same to Five Spices, Thirteen Spices does not restrict to just thirteen ingredients, very often there can be more than twenty ingredients to create a Thirteen Spices mix. It is like an upgrade version of Five Spices, meaning it has a deeper, profound flavor profile. Thirteen Spices has similar function as Five Spices, but it works better to remove stronger odor from meat such as lamb or deer, or for a cuisine that requires stronger seasonings e.g. a Sichuan spicy hot pot. Products of Thirteen Spices you see in stores are usually ground as the photo shown below for convenience. You can of course grind your own Thirteen Spices or Five Spices powder at home for fresher, stronger aroma. Lightly bake spices in oven or pan fry with low heat briefly before grinding with food processor will largely enhance its aroma. From my own experience, homemade spice powder really is more satisfying in terms of its aroma and the final taste of your dish. TIPS: If you are using Thirteen Spices or Five Spices powder to season a wok-fry dish, sprinkle the powder only a few minutes before turning off heat to avoid reducing fragrance due to overcooking.