12 Must-Have Chinese Seasonings


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.


Chinese: 盐yán /yen/

Salt is an indispensable seasoning used in almost every dish in China.

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

Soy Sauce

Chinese: 酱油jiàngyóu /jyang-yoh/

Soy sauce is the basic ingredient for many stir-fry sauces. It is a traditional seasoning for Chinese recipes and used in almost every cuisine of China. It is usually made from soybeans, wheat, and wheat bran.

There is a light soy sauce and a dark soy sauce, and their usages are different.

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.

Oyster Sauce

Chinese: 蚝油háoyóu /haoww-yoh/

Oyster sauce is a sweet and salty sauce, which 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.

Sesame Oil

Chinese: 芝麻油 zhīmayóu /jrr-maa-yoh/

Sesame oil is derived from sesame seeds. It is 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.

Rice Vinegar

Chinese: 米醋mǐcù /mee-tsoo/

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

It can be added to soup, braising dishes, or stir-fries to increase the flavor. Sometimes it is used to make dipping sauces.

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, improving the aroma of dishes, and to help the flavors fully penetrate into dishes.

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 and vinegar.

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

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.

Star Anise

Chinese: 八角bājiǎo /baa-jyaoww/

Star anise is dark brown with eight prongs, each with 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.

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.

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.

Sichuan Pepper

Chinese: 花椒huājiāo /hwaa-jyaoww/

Sichuan pepper is a pungent spice with a numbing and spicy taste, used most 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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