As with so much of Asian cooking, five-spice powder is intended to trigger a sense of balance in the mouth and nose, simultaneously hitting notes of warm and cool, sweet and bitter, savory and searing. It’s a mix of fennel seeds, cinnamon, cloves, star anise and Sichuan peppercorns.

That robust profile of flavors makes it a natural for roasted and grilled meats. Five-spice especially likes fatty meat, and often is used with duck (combined with soy sauce for Peking duck).

Likewise, the sweet-and-spicy notes play well with pork, and even is sprinkled on fried peanuts as a snack. But that diversity of flavor also makes this a versatile seasoning, equally at home on roasted vegetables and tofu dishes.

So what should you do with it?

• Rub it on steak tips, then refrigerate them for a day or so. Toss them on the grill and pair with beer.

• Blend it with kosher salt, then sprinkle it on hot buttered popcorn.

• Substitute it for the seasonings in your favorite meat-based chili.

• Blend with salt, then rub under and over the skin of a whole chicken for roasting.

• Mix into the batter of fried (or even baked “fried”) chicken.

• Blend with olive oil, then toss with shrimp for grilling.

— J.M. Hirsch

Associated Press