If you live in a big city, you should be able to find a Chinese, or Asian, grocery store where you can buy Chinese seasonings. If you don’t have one close to you, you can buy many Chinese seasonings online.
If your not used to shopping in a Chinese/Asian grocery store, it might be a bit confusing as to what to buy amongst the long aisles of all kinds of different seasonings! To help you to find what you need for my recipes, I thought it would be helpful to introduce the most commonly-used Chinese seasonings.
Note: Some of the links below are Amazon affiliate links, and at no additional cost to you, we will earn a commission if you decide to make a purchase. These links illustrate the products we use in our recipes and offer you the convenience of buying online and having your purchases shipped to you. Please let us know if you have any questions about any of these products.
These two brands are the ones I like to use: Lee Kum Kee (A & B) and Pearl River Bridge (C & D). They’re available in Chinese grocery stores. If you can’t find these two brands, you might like to use another brand like Kikkoman that you can find in many local grocery stores. There are different varieties of soy sauce. The main ones are light soy sauce, like A and C, and dark soy sauce, like B and D.
Light soy sauce: Just like the name indicates, light soy sauce is lighter in color than dark soy sauce, but saltier. It has a good flavor. Some light soy sauces have the word “light” on the bottle, and some only say “soy sauce”. I use it a lot; for marinating meat, in most of my stir-fry dishes, and in some cold dishes.
Dark Soy Sauce: It is, in general, used to add the dark color. Dark soy sauce is darker and thicker than light soy sauce. It adds the shiny golden color to the dish if you use the right amount. When you use it, I would suggest pouring it slowly into a spoon and then into your dish. If you put too much, it will kill the freshness of the dish, and the color of the dish may become too dark.
Lao Gan Ma, I LOVE THIS BRAND. These sauces are the best! A lot of my friends call it “the Old Grandma Chili Sauce.” That works! Grandma Tao, the owner and CEO of Lao Gan Ma Chili Sauces, is a strong Chinese lady who has never been to school. Her story is so encouraging to a lot of people. Above all, her chili sauces are popular all over the world, and are a must-have in a lot of Chinese people’s kitchens. The brand has different kinds of chili sauces, and each of them has its own uses. Here I listed 4 of them, and I have to admit they do look alike. There are English words in the bottom left corner. It is little though. In general, A & B are used for dishes that are already cooked and just need to spice up. C & D are used when cooking a dish. The heat will bring out the flavors.
Chili in Oil. I use it for my noodle dishes. I also add it to other dishes to spice them up before I take them out of the skillet/wok.
Spicy Chili Crisp. I use it for cold dishes, like Chinese salad, cold chicken/pork/beef dishes.
Black Beans. I use it for stir-fry. Just like its name says, this one has whole black beans. If you don’t like whole black beans, you may want to use the Spicy Bean Paste.
Spicy Bean Paste. I use it for stir-fry and stew.
PiXian Chili paste is commonly used in the Chinese cuisine. In general, chili paste is used for dishes that require longer cooking time. I use it to stew meat and fish. PiXian Chili paste comes in jars and bags of different sizes. The ones I like to use are pictured here as A and B. The size of the pieces of chili can differ among brands. I like to use the ones that have smaller pieces of chili (like A & B). I haven’t used C so I’m not sure about the size of the chili pieces. Lee Kum Kee Chili Bean Sauce will work as a substitute for these pastes as well. When you buy chili paster or sauce, please do pay attention to the freshness.
Dried Chili Pepper: I use it in dry dishes like Chongqing Spicy Chicken, GanGuo Shrimp/Ribs, and some stir-fry vegetables.
Chili Pepper Flakse: I use it to make my own red chili sauce. Yes, I make my own chili sauce for some of my cold dishes and my noodle dishes. It is super good! I also use it in some of my dry dishes.
Crushed Red Pepper: This is the same as chili pepper flakes. Since McCormick is a popular brand, I include it in here for you.
Chili Powder: I use it a lot in my stir-fry. I add it to my sauce, to make my delicious ribs, and many more.
Sichuan Peppercorns. Sichuan peppercorns are commonly used in Sichuan cuisine, and it is a must-have item in my pantry. Sichuan peppercorns add a very fragrant flavor to my dishes. The spiciness and numbness stimulate your appetite. The famous “Chong Qing Spicy Chicken”, “MaPo Tofu”, and hot pot cannot have the flavor we like without Sichuan peppercorns. I use both whole peppercorns or ground peppercorns depending on the dish. When I grind Sichuan peppercorns, I put a handful in a skillet on low heat for a few minutes, keep stirring them, then put them in a mortar and use the pestle to grind them. I only grind the amount I’ll use right away so my dishes will have the fresh strong fragrance I want.
Whole Black Pepper. If you can’t find Sichuan peppercorns or you don’t like the numbness of Sichuan peppercorns, you can use whole black pepper to replace Sichuan peppercorns in my recipes. If you do, you should grind it with a mortar and pestle to get the flavor out of it.
Ground Black Pepper. For the same reason, if you don’t want the numbness, you may use this ground black pepper.
White pepper is widely used in Chinese cuisine. White pepper and black pepper are different. I remember my mom used to say, “When you cook red dishes (meaning dishes that you put chili sauce and/or chili paste), you use black pepper. When you cook white dishes (meaning you don’t use chili sauce and/or paste, the color is light) and soups, you use white pepper.” Or there is another way to understand it. When I cook red meat, I use black pepper, and when I cook white meat and fish, I use both or only white pepper. White pepper goes very well with chicken.
A and B are ground white pepper. I use both of them, and there is not much difference to me. They are great for marinating chicken, seasoning some stir-fries, and soup. They’re mild. If the dish needs a stronger flavor, you need to grind white peppercorns.
C/D. C and D are whole white peppercorns. White peppercorns have to be ground to get the pepper flavor. If you just use the whole peppercorns and don’t grind them, you won’t be able to get much of the pepper flavor from it. For my favorite chicken or turkey soup, I grind about 20 white peppercorns and add to the soup from the beginning. That is my ‘secret weapon.”
Dark Vinegar: Chinkiang dark vinegar is a popular brand to use in the Chinese cuisine. I use it for sweet and sour dishes, like sweet and sour ribs. Besides the sour that the sweet and sour dishes needs, it also adds the brown color to the dish. When I stew beef or ribs, I add a few drops of the vinegar so the meat becomes tender in a shorter time. When I stir-fry, I add a drop of the vinegar before I remove the dish away from the heat, which adds the freshness to the dish.
Rice Vinegar: I use it for the dishes that don’t need the brown color. It is a little milder than apple cedar vinegar. You can use apple cedar vinegar in my recipes that call for rice vinegar, only reduce the amount a bit.
Apple Cedar Vinegar: I use it to make my salad dressing.
Shaoshing Rice Wine
Shaoshing Rice Wine is very popular in Chinese cuisine. I use it to marinate meat and fish. I use the rice wine or lemon interchangeably. I also use it during cooking for some meat dishes. For example, I add a tablespoon of rice wine to the meat/fish dish before it is removed from the fire. It adds a great flavor. If you can’t find Shaohsing wine, you can use some other rice wine like clear rice wine instead. However, you may lose the richness of flavor that Shaohsing rice wine brings to the dish. If the rice wine you get is sweet, please reduce the amount that my recipe calls for.
Some of you may have never seen oyster sauce. It’s a sauce from boiled oysters and other seasonings. It doesn’t smell good to a lot of people, but it tastes quite good. I use oyster sauce for my stir-fry dishes, especially for stir-frying vegetables. It adds a fresh flavor to it. I also use it in some of my stewing dishes. But don’t put too much because it is quite strong. A (Megachef Premium Oyster Sauce) and B (Lee Kum Kee Panda Oyster Sauce) are the brands i use. You can find these in Asian grocery stores.
Sesame Oil (A and B): These two brands are very common in the Asian grocery stores. A is Kadoya Pure Sesame Oil, and B is Mogami Japanese Toasted Sesame Oil. To me, there is no difference, and I use both of them. Sesame oil is very tasty, but very strong. For best results, please measure precisely according to my recipes. One thing we need to remember is that sesame oil is not used to replace vegetable oil or olive oil. Sesame oil is used when the dishes are done or on cold dishes or soup.
Sesame Seeds (C, D, and E): Sesame seeds are nutritious and healthy. They are commonly used in Chinese cuisine. I use them in some cold dishes just like we add nuts in those dishes. Sesame seeds are also used to decorate hot dishes after they’re put in a serving plate. I just scatter some roasted seeds on the top. Sesame seeds are also used in making pasties. For some recipes I use whole sesame seeds, some I use ground seeds. I use both black sesame seeds (C) or white sesame seeds (D and E), depending on the color of the dish (white sesame seeds on darker colored dishes and black sesame sees on lighter colored dishes). I use roasted sesame seeds to add to dishes after their finished cooking. I used sesame seeds that haven’t been roasted in dishes where I add the sesame seeds to the dish before cooking it, or while cooking it.
There is a specific type of stew called Lu in Sichuan cuisine. For this stew, you need to make a stew sauce called Lu Shui. I made my Lu Shui with the above Lu Bao (5 spice bags) and some other ingredients. The Lu Bao contains the famous 5 spices: star anise, cloves, cinnamon, Sichuan pepper, and fennel seeds. Please refer to my blog as to how to make the specific stew sauce (Lu Shui). Is use the 5 spice powder in dishes like stir-fry and stew (other than Lu Shui).
Cinnamon Sticks. Cinnamon is one of the ingredients in the 5-spice powder or 5-spice bag (Lu Bao). The Chinese cinnamon is cassia cinnamon. The flavor is not as strong as the regular cinnamon. I use it in my stew.
Star Anise. Like cinnamon, it is also one of the main ingredients in the 5-spice powder and 5-spice bag (Lu Bao). The flavor of star anise is sweet and licorice-like. I use them when I stew red meat. I use star anise more than cinnamon sticks. I use star anise when I stir-fry some red meat, too.
Starches (Tapioca, Corn, Green Bean)
Tapioca Starch: I use tapioca starch to thicken my dishes while I am cooking. It makes my dishes thicker, silkier, and shinier. Especially when a dish has too much juice but I want the seasonings to stick on the meat and vegetables, I use tapioca starch to make it perfect!
Corn Starch: We’re all familiar with corn starch. It is used as a thickening agent for sauces, soup, and gravies. I use both tapioca starch and corn starch in my cooking.
Mung (Green) Bean Starch: A lot of you might not be familiar with it. It’s quite popular in many Asian cuisines, not just Chinese cuisine. I use it to make jelly for a mung bean salad, which is a very healthy dish. I also use the starch to fry fish, shrimp, and chicken instead of regular flour. The surface is crispy, and the crispiness lasts longer.
Lump candy is crystal. It is not as sweet as other candy. I use it in my stew so that the dish is shiny when it is done. It is just appealing! For example, I use it in my “sweet and sour ribs”. Sometimes I put one piece in my tea.
Ginger Roots, Garlic, Green Onion
Ginger roots, garlic, and green onion are a must-have in my kitchen. Depending on the recipe, I may just need the juice from ginger or garlic. I may need minced ginger, or minced garlic, or chopped onion. One thing for sure, I always have fresh ginger, garlic, and green onion in my kitchen.
These are raw peanuts. When I need peanuts in some dishes like “Kong Pao Chicken,”, I roast some raw peanuts.