Spices are such a fundamental part of cooking – they give hidden depth and rich flavour to a dish. When it comes to spices used in Asian cooking, there are definitely some repeat performers. Here’s my rundown of my favourites, so be sure to stock your pantry with these as they show up very regularly! You may also find my article on my go-to pantry essentials an interesting read.
Popular spices used in Asian cooking
Oooh, this is one of my favourites. Chinese five-spice powder is a seasoning blend of spices, and is often used in Chinese cuisine for flavouring poultry, roasted meats and fish. I like to make my own homemade five spice – you’ll really appreciate the intensity in comparison to store-bought versions.
Cinnamon comes from the bark of the cinnamon tree, and is used in both sweet and savoury dishes. You’ll find it in the form of curled sticks, also called quills, or in its ground form. I like to add it to build flavour in soups or braises.
Always buy star anise whole, as it tends to lose a lot of its flavour and aroma once it’s ground. It’s one of the main spices used for Asian cooking, especially in Chinese cuisine. You’ll also find it used in Vietnamese dishes such as pho. It’s a wonderful way to level up your soups, stews and stocks and infuses a really warm, sweet and spicy kind of flavour to things. As for its best friends, it goes extremely well with meats, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, onions and citrus.
An absolute essential in Asian cuisine! My preference for chilli powder is one that has a good mix of dried chilli flakes, ground dried chilli powder and seeds. I find mainstream supermarket or non-Asian chilli powders tend to be just fine powder. My advice? Search for a Thai or Chinese brand from an Asian grocer, and you’re likely to hit the jackpot.
Is garlic a spice? A herb? A vegetable? Who knows, but one thing’s for sure: I can’t get enough of it! And it’s not just me: garlic is a superstar ingredient in all kinds of cuisine from all over the world. With an intense and unique flavour, you’ll find me adding it to stir-fries, grating it into dumpling mixes and using it in marinades. If you love garlic as much as me, then try this recipe for Typhoon Shelter Prawns. It’s garlic overload… and totally worth the breath!
Would you LOOK at all that garlic. Heaven.
This plant root is FULL of heat and flavour, and is one of the most common spices used in Asian cooking. (Although… is it a spice, technically? This is so confusing!) On the savoury side, my Beef, Mushroom & Ginger Stir-fry celebrates the spice in all its glory, while my 5-spice Apple & Ginger Crumb heroes its use for the sweeter side of things.
Widely used in Indian cuisine, garam masala is a popular spice blend… although there’s no one true recipe for it. Instead, people tend to make their own blends – and the exact components and quantities are often a closely guarded secret within families! I love to use it in my recipe for Classic Butter Chicken.
Such a classic Thai flavour! I’d say it’s probably ‘hotter’ than black pepper, although not as complex in flavour profile. Did you know though that black and white peppercorns are actually from the same plant? The difference between them is how they are harvested and processed (find out all about peppercorn varieties).
White pepper is a classic Thai flavour.