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The 12 Must-Have Chinese Seasonings

The 12 Must-Have Chinese Seasonings

Written by Candice SongUpdated Nov. 20, 2023
Chinese kitchen Chinese cook foreign onlookersFind out what Chinese people put in their food...

Delicious, authentic Chinese foods always make your mouth water. Besides excellent cooking skills, Chinese foods' mouth-watering tastes have a close relationship with their sauces and condiments.

Here, we introduce you to the most common seasonings used in daily cooking in a Chinese kitchen.

1. Salt


Chinese: yán /yen/

Salt is an indispensable seasoning used in almost every dish in China. Chinese use a lot of salt.

It can get rid of bad fish odors, sterilize food, and prevent food from spoiling.

2. Soy Sauce

Chinese: 酱油 jiàngyóu /jyang-yoh/

Soy sauce is a traditional seasoning and used in every Chinese cuisine and for stir-fry sauces. It is usually made from soybeans, wheat, and wheat bran.

Light soy sauce is mainly used for stir-frying in order to add flavor, and it can also be served as a dipping sauce. Dark soy sauce is mainly used for seasoning meat and for adding color to dishes.

3. Oyster Sauce

Chinese: 蚝油 háoyóu /haoww-yoh/

Oyster sauce is a sweet and salty sauce that is made from oysters, sugar, soy sauce, wheat flour, and water.

It is used for cooking meat and stir-frying vegetables. It is very popular in Cantonese cuisine. There is a vegetarian version that is made with mushrooms instead of oyster extract.

4. Sesame Oil

Red sesame oil is a popular condiment that is sometimes available along with dark soy sauce and chili sauce at restaurants.

Chinese: 芝麻油 zhīmayóu /jrr-maa-yoh/

Sesame oil is derived from sesame seeds. It is usually red and sometimes dark and has a nutty aroma and flavor.

It is mainly used as a marinade or added to dressings and dipping sauces. It is unsuitable for deep-frying due to its low boiling point, but it can be used for stir-frying with meat or vegetables. 

5. Rice Vinegar

Chinese: 米醋 mǐcù /mee-tsoo/

Rice vinegar is made from rice. It is a liquid seasoning with an acidic flavor that can be transparent, colorless, or reddish-brown.

It can be added to soup, braised dishes, or stir-fries to enhance the flavors. Sometimes it is used to make dipping sauces.

6. Rice Wine

Chinese: 料酒 liàojiŭ /lyaoww-jyoh/

Rice wine is made from sticky rice and millet.

It is used to remove bad odors from meat and fish, improve the aroma of dishes, and help the flavors fully penetrate into dishes.

7. Chili Sauce (or Chili Paste)

Chinese: 辣椒酱 làjiāojiàng /laa-jyaoww-jyang/

Chili sauce is a spicy condiment made from chilies, sometimes with garlic, vinegar, and/or peppercorns.

It is used for stir-frying or as a dipping sauce.

8. Soybean Paste

Chinese: 豆瓣酱 dòubànjiàng /doh-ban-jyang/

Soybean paste is usually dark brown. It tastes salty and oily with a layer of oil in the jar.

It is added to heated oil for stir-fries or in braising liquids for rich winter dishes.

9. Star Anise

star aniseStar anise

Chinese: 八角 bājiǎo /baa-jyaoww/

Star anise is dark brown with eight prongs. Each has a black, shiny seed.

It plays an important role in slow-cooked dishes and is widely used in Chinese cuisine due to its distinctive taste.

10. Five-Spice Powder

Chinese: 五香 wǔxiāng /woo-sshyang/

Five-spice powder is a blend of five ingredients: cloves, Sichuan peppercorns, fennel, Chinese cinnamon, and star anise. It offers the sour, bitter, pungent, sweet, and spicy flavors favored in Chinese cooking in a fine balance.

Five-spice powder is used for seasoning poultry, in braised beef dishes, and in soup for optimum flavor. 

11. Chili Powder

 Chili Powder Chili Powder

Chinese: 辣椒粉 làjiāofěn /laa-jyaoww-fnn/

Chili powder is a pungent powder that is made from dried chilies. It is often combined with Sichuan pepper in Chinese dishes.

It is used in many Chinese cuisines, especially in Sichuan and Hunan cuisines.

12. Sichuan Peppercorn

Black Pepper Peppercorn Tastes a Little Like Black Pepper.

Chinese: 花椒 huājiāo /hwaa-jyaoww/

Sichuan peppercorn is a pungent spice with a numbing and spicy taste that is frequently applied in Sichuan cuisine. It is said to dispel colds and benefit the stomach.

It is mainly used to mask bad meat odors. It can be cooked in oil to flavor the oil or mixed with salt as a condiment for any meat, fish, or vegetable dish.

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Our experienced guides can help you enjoy the best of China's cuisines. See our most popular food tour itineraries below for inspiration.

Or you can contact us for a personalized tour according to your interests and requirements.

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