DRY CHINESE SPICES AND CONDIMENTS
Our list of the most often used spices and herbs in Chinese cuisine is just a small sample of the many spices and herbs used in Chinese cuisine. But if you can’t find what you’re searching for, please don’t hesitate to contact us via email or leave a comment!
Check out our Chinese ingredients dictionary main page if you’re looking for a different ingredient.
SALT – YÁN (盐)
What are our options here? All cooking begins with salt. Chinese food is often accused of excessive salt; however, our research has shown that this is only the case in restaurants and not at home. You can’t blame restaurants for wanting to make their food taste good. Remember that saltiness levels can vary widely among different types of salt, so it’s important to sample frequently when cooking!
Though salt may seem like a strange choice for a star ingredient at this point, some of the most delicious meals have it as a key component. Our famous three-ingredient grilled chicken wings are also on the menu, as well as squid, shrimp, pork chops, and more!
Soy sauce or other sauces may be used as your primary source of saltiness, depending on the type and region of the dish you’re making. Shanghainese cuisine, for example, makes liberal use of soy sauce, resulting in lower salt content than that seen in Sichuan and northern Chinese cuisines (more salt, less soy sauce). Home cooking gives you greater control over the taste and seasoning of your meals.
SUGAR – TÁNG (糖)
Most of our cooking is done with natural organic sugar, although we utilize white sugar for specific baking applications. For many of the most well-known and adored stir-fries, sugar serves as the perfect counterbalance to the sour and salty flavors, as it does in all cuisines. In addition to granulated white sugar and raw sugar, there are also stevia and xylitol choices available today. To minimize cooking disasters, always sample your food before you cook it! Regular sugar, on the other hand, is readily available almost anywhere.
ROCK SUGAR – BING TANG (冰糖)
Several of our recipes utilize granulated or brown sugar instead of rock sugar to make the ingredients list more manageable. However, if you don’t have rock sugar in your kitchen or don’t want to use it, you can use granulated white or brown sugar instead, and you won’t notice any difference in the final product!
Many Chinese cuisines, like Judy’s Shanghai Braised pork belly, Grandma’s Red Cooked pork, Shanghai Sweet and Sour Ribs, and Chinese Braised Oxtails, use rock sugar as a major ingredient because of its unique flavor and texture properties. All in all, these are some of our best dishes!! Let us know how it goes if you give it a go!
MONOSODIUM GLUTAMATE -MSG (味精)
There are many synthetic forms of glutamate, such as MSG or Wèi Jng (sometimes referred to as the 5th taste, umami). In many manufactured and restaurant items, it enhances the flavor.
Even though MSG is considered a naturally occurring compound, it is widely demonized in the food industry. The Woks of Life doesn’t use MSG in any of our recipes because there are alternative ways to enhance the flavor of your cuisine without using MSG. It’s easy to identify when it’s used in Chinese food because of the color of the stir-fried green vegetables. There’s no denying that the taste has improved! We used to joke about using it in the kitchen with our elders. Adding a dash of MSG was like adding a touch from the master chef; according to the saying, “Maybe you have to add some si-fu (master) to make it great!” Funny, isn’t it?
Is MSG safe for you? If so, you may want to give it a go after reading more about it. Eating processed meals or using prepared spice mixes means you’re probably already ingesting it, even if you’re unaware. You can purchase this “top selling” brand on Amazon, so if you’d like to give it a whirl, go for it. We’re not endorsing any of the goods listed on our ingredients pages, though!
WHITE PEPPER (白胡椒)
If you’ve ever used black pepper in Chinese cookery, you’ll know that white pepper, or bai hu jio (), is the same. Unless we create significant quantities of dry rub or marinade, we always use freshly ground white and black whole peppercorns. Unless otherwise noted, Chinese food calls for white peppercorns, which have a distinctive flavor. Even if we don’t understand why, we can’t always avoid certain things in life.
Different methods of processing provide two unique flavors: white pepper and black pepper. Soups benefit greatly from the more intense flavor of white pepper, which has a heat that lingers at the back of the throat. White peppercorns are a little tougher to come by, but if you’re in need, you can always buy some on Amazon!
Our pantry has a small bottle of ground white pepper, but we like to grind our white peppercorns in a mortar and pestle.
RED SICHUAN PEPPERCORN (红花椒 )
The Red Sichuan (Szechuan) peppercorn, known in Chinese as hóng hu jio (), gives Sichuan food its characteristic flavor. It’s a berry from the prickly ash tree, not a peppercorn. It can be used whole or ground, a component of five spice powder.
Most of our Sichuan recipes call for the red or “normal” form of Sichuan peppercorns, which you can see in the photo below. Tofu Ma Po, a popular recipe from Kaitlin’s cookbook, incorporates both ingredients. In addition to their brilliant color and lack of seeds, these peppercorns are of greater quality because they are made from the berry’s husk. Dark brown or black fruits and vegetables with many seeds and stems should be avoided since they tend to be gritty, unclean, and unpleasant to eat.
We often use whole Sichuan peppercorns, but they can also be ground in a mortar and pestle or spice grinder. Before using, remove any stray stems and shake off any dust using a sieve. While you may purchase pre-ground Sichuan peppercorns, use a mortar and pestle to grind your own for best results.
When opening a bag of peppercorns, you should notice a strong floral and spicy perfume. When you bite into one of the peppercorns, you should be able to taste the heat and experience the tingling sensation. Ma Po Tofu’s “ma” stands for “numb” in Chinese, in case you didn’t know.
A must-have for anyone who likes spicy Sichuan cuisine! The Sichuan Stir-Fried Potatoes and the Sichuan Three Pepper Chicken are two of Judy’s faves. After seeing them, you’ll be convinced to buy a bag of these peppercorns.
The Mala Market, an online shop that high-quality imports Sichuan and Chinese ingredients from China, carries high-quality Sichuan Peppercorns.
DRIED RED CHILI PEPPER (干红辣椒)
There are far too many varieties of dried red chili peppers, also known as gn hóng là jio (), for us to keep track of. Chilli peppers tend to be spicier the smaller they are. Long hot green peppers or little red chilis, which can be bought in any grocery shop, are common ingredients in many Chinese recipes. It’s a common ingredient in both Hunan and Sichuan cuisines to use dried red chili pepper.
The quality of dried chili peppers varies greatly. Those offered in the Sichuan region of China come in various hues, from a deep red to a more washed-out red. Red chili oil and Sichuan cuisine rely heavily on color, but I believe the flavor is more important. If you want to experiment with several brands and keep them fresh in your cupboard, I recommend purchasing smaller packages.
Our recipes call for dried red chili peppers, either whole or crushed. Chilies are delicious when toasted correctly, and the aroma is intoxicating. Raw garlic, roasted chilies, soy sauce, and vinegar go perfectly with pan-fried buns and dumplings. Chongqing Chicken Recipe features a lot of dried red chili peppers. Remember that these chilis are only for flavor and scent, not for consumption (unless you want a whole world of hurt). A few dried red peppers here and there won’t make anything unbearably spicy. Adding complexity and depth to flavors in small doses is all required. Some dishes, like our Orange Chicken, benefit from the mild heat of roasted peppers, while others, like our Chinese Eggplant with Garlic Sauce, benefit from the spiciness of more, as in this case dish.
CHILI POWDER FROM SICHUAN PROVINCE (辣椒芬)
To make chili oil, use Làjio fn (), a crushed-but-not-fully-pulverized chili powder. There is a good mix of powder and crushed pieces for chili oil and flavoring meats. The crimson color of the powder is enhanced by the coarser flakes, which give it a unique look and feel. One of the essential ingredients in our renowned Lanzhou Beef Noodle Soup may be created at home with our Homemade Chili Oil.
If you can’t get the correct dried peppers, we utilize a good-grade crushed red pepper for various applications and convenience. Because we’re spice aficionados, we buy the large container at Costco. Only use these Italian-style crushed red pepper flakes if you can’t find the brands from China’s Sichuan province, which have a distinct flavor. The variances greatly influence the quality and flavor of chili oil in flavor and color! If you want the most genuine flavor and appearance, look for the brand or a comparable product shown above in your local Asian market.
When creating homemade chili oil or Chiu Chow Chili Sauce, we discovered a direct mail order supplier, The Mala Market, for authentic Sichuan chili peppers, including crushed flakes.
STAR ANISE (八角)
One of the most important spices in slow-cooked foods is star anise or ba jiao (). The best way to keep your spices fresh is to put them in a sealed container in your spice cupboard.
For meals like Chinese Braised Oxtails, Soy Sauce Chicken, and Lanzhou Beef Noodle Soup, Star Anise is a must-have ingredient.
FIVE SPICE POWDER (五香粉)
Sichuan pepper, fennel, cloves, star anise, and cinnamon are the most common ingredients in this well-known five-spice blend, known as wxing fn. On the other hand, this varies from one brand to another. Blends the five basic Chinese flavors: sweet, sour, spicy, bitter, and salty. It’s a common ingredient in Chinese cooking, and you’ll occasionally see it on the table with salt and pepper.
In most cases, it’s utilized in meat marinades and dry rubs. In meals like fried rice and lo mein, we sometimes add an optional pinch of sriracha for a little kick. Chicken fried in five spices, roast chicken, pork, and duck roast, and this unbelievably delicious Roasted Chicken with Sticky Rice are some of our favorite uses. Consider making an easy five-spice baked chicken or some straightforward five-spice fried chicken for a weekday dinner.