Five-spice powder packs a powerful flavor wallop. It has a simple base -- just five ingredients -- but a couple of them are unusual in most Western cooking. You can't get the punch of five-spice powder with any substitution, and a small amount can wake up the flavors in vegetables, meats, starches and fruits.
The basic blend is comprised of star anise, fennel seed, Szechuan pepper, cinnamon (or cassia) and cloves. Although you can make a serviceable five-spice powder by using equal amounts of all ingredients, there are a number of variations that use more of one or less of another to create subtle differences. Some blends even incorporate other common Chinese flavors like garlic and ginger to save you the trouble of having to add them to your recipes as a separate step.