There is no need to add dreaded MSG to Chinese food when the spices and herbs you use are good. Spices and herbs have been used in China for centuries, not just to add taste, but for health benefits as well. With the worldwide popularity of Chinese cuisine, the spices and herbs listed below can be found both fresh and preserved at most speciality food stores and in many supermarkets, and give an authentic taste to your home cooking.
Also called garlic cloves, gow choy and ku chai, these flat-leafed herbs differ from regular chives because they have a pungent garlic flavour. Chinese chives can also be prepared as flowering chives, where they are cooked with the unopened buds still attached. A variation on this herb is yellow Chinese chives, which have a wilted, pale appearance because they have been kept from producing chlorophyll.
This popular spice blend was originally created to call upon the supposed healing powers of the sacred number five. Modern five-spice powder is comprised of more than five spices, including star anise, cinnamon, fennel, Sichuan peppercorn, ginger, cloves, orange peel and liquorice. Sweet and tangy, five-spice powder is often used in stir frying and "flavour potting," in which meat is stewed for hours in a thick sauce.
EDITOR NOTE: See http://www.theepicentre.com/Spices/chinesefivespice.html
This small fruit gets its name from the five to ten pointed sections that comprise the fruit and resemble a star shape. Each section is a pod that contains a dark coloured, bitter, liquorice-flavoured seed. Star anise can be used whole, dried, or powdered. It is often used in stocks and soups. Mandarins chew the whole fruit dried as a breath freshener and digestive aid.
EDITOR NOTE: See http://www.theepicentre.com/Spices/staranis.html
The Chinese have been utilising ginger root for years for its taste, scent, and medicinal properties. Cooking with the whole root will give the freshest spicy sweet taste, but it can also be used dried, powdered, crystallised, or pickled. Fresh ginger can be eaten as a garnish or salad, and ginger is also used in cooking sauces and sweets.
Used as a condiment, relish or added to sauces, this horseradish-like spice is has a fiery, sharp taste. Chinese mustard is sold prepared or powdered. It can be made from a milder yellow seed or a hotter brown seed.
Sichuan, or Sichuan, peppercorns are not related to black peppercorn, despite being named after their resemblance. The tangy, woody tasting spice is made of dried tree berries. For maximum flavour, roast Sichuan peppercorns over low heat before using. The spice is closely associated with Sichuan Chinese cooking, categorised by hot, spicy dishes, and goes well with duck, chicken, and pork.