So you're eager to whip up a steaming, soul-warming bowl of pho soup, but the daunting question lingers in your mind – "What pho spices do I need, and how much of each should I use?" Don't worry - I've got you covered!
Making homemade pho is all about tailoring it to your personal preference and taste. Whether you choose to make your own pho spice blend or opt for the pre-packaged options, this guide will delve into both options and provide precise measurements, allowing you to fine-tune the flavors to suit your personal preferences.
What are the essential pho spices for pho noodle soup?
Pho is known for its rich and complex flavors and the right balance of spices. Creating a budget-friendly or minimal-ingredient pho spice blend while maintaining an authentic taste can be achieved by combining key elements. Start with star anise, cinnamon sticks, whole cloves, and coriander seeds, which form the foundation of the blend.
For added depth, consider incorporating fennel and black cardamom. If you opt for a pho spice packet, it may include additional ingredients like Sichuan pepper, green cardamom, or even a touch of citrus, enhancing the complexity of your homemade pho broth. Experimenting with these components can help you tailor the blend to your taste.
⬇️ Please scroll down to the recipe card to see the full ingredient amounts and instructions ⬇️
Star anise is one of the most crucial spices in pho. It has a distinct, licorice-like flavor and imparts a sweet and aromatic quality to the broth.
Cinnamon has a warm, sweet, and spicy fragrance with woody and earthy undertones. Like star anise, they are often used whole and removed before serving.
Whole cloves contribute a warm and slightly pungent flavor to the broth. They are usually used sparingly because their flavor can be quite strong. Whole cloves are used, and like other spices, they are removed before serving.
Coriander seeds provide a citrusy and slightly earthy flavor to the broth. They are toasted before being added to enhance their aroma. I usually toast all the other spices first and add coriander last since it burns quicker than the rest.
Fennel seeds offer a mild licorice flavor, complementing the star anise. I like toasting coriander and fennel in the last 1-2 minutes since they burn quicker than the rest of the spices.
There are two types of cardamom: green and black. Pho uses the black cardamom pods, but sometimes you'll see both used. Black cardamom has a smoky, woody taste with earthy undertones. Some describe it as having a slightly medicinal or pine-like scent. This smokiness is a key feature that sets it apart from green cardamom, which has a more floral and citrusy fragrance. It's pretty strong, so 1-2 pods will be more than enough.
To be honest, the green cardamom doesn't do anything for the broth unless you use a large quantity. The aroma is more subtle.
Where to buy it
You can find these essential spices for making pho at various places, including local grocery stores, international or Asian markets, and online retailers. Here are some options for sourcing these spices:
- Local Grocery Stores: Some larger supermarkets, especially those with well-stocked spice sections, may carry these spices. You can check the spice aisle for items like star anise, cinnamon sticks, cloves, coriander seeds, fennel seeds, and even ginger and onions.
- International or Asian Markets: Asian markets are an excellent place to find a wide variety of spices and ingredients commonly used in Asian cuisine, including those for making pho. You can find fresh ginger, spices like star anise and cinnamon, and other essential pho ingredients. These markets often carry more authentic and high-quality options.
- Online Retailers: Online retailers such as Amazon or specialty spice shops offer a convenient way to purchase these spices. You can find whole or ground spices, and often, they come in various package sizes to suit your needs.
Spice bags are important because they allow you to infuse the broth with the essential spices and flavors while keeping the soup clear and free of debris. Pho is known for its complex and aromatic broth, which is achieved by simmering a combination of spices and herbs. Using a spice bag helps contain these ingredients, making it easier to remove them later and ensuring the broth remains clear and flavorful.
There are various types of spice bags that can be used for different culinary purposes, including making soups, stews, stocks, and infusing flavors. Pho comes with lots of large whole spices, so make sure whatever you use is large enough to hold everything.
Cheesecloth is a versatile option for creating spice bags. It's a thin, loosely woven fabric that allows flavors to permeate while keeping solid spices contained. You can cut a piece of cheesecloth into the desired size and tie it with kitchen twine to create a spice bag. Sometimes it already comes in as a sachet bag with a drawstring.
Tea infusers are small mesh or perforated metal containers that are typically used for steeping tea leaves. They can also be repurposed as spice bags for soups or stews. Just fill the infuser with your spices and herbs and submerge it in your cooking liquid.
Disposable Tea Bags
You can find disposable tea bags made of paper or cloth, which are convenient for making spice bags. These are often used in herbal teas, but they work well for soups and broths too.
Spice balls or infusers are small, perforated metal balls with a clasp. You can fill these balls with spices and herbs, close them, and hang them in your pot for easy removal. They are especially useful for soups and stews.
Best store-bought pho spice packages
I'm a fan of pre-packaged spice mixes for their convenience and time-saving benefits, sparing me from the task of individually sourcing and measuring each ingredient.
Given that not everyone has easy access to specialty spice markets or Asian grocery stores that carry specific pho spices, these packet mixes provide a more accessible option in many locations. They're also available on Amazon!
If you don't frequently use these spices in other recipes, opting for pre-packaged blends can minimize wastage, as you won't need to purchase larger quantities of individual spices.
Let's take a look at some common pho spice packets and see what ingredients they each have in them. I found these two at my Asian grocery store.
Old Man Que Huong Brand
This is the preferred brand by most Vietnamese. It comes with all the classic pho spices and a spice bag. Available at most well-stocked Asian grocery stores or on Amazon.
What's inside the bag?
- 1 spice bag
- 3 cinnamon bark
- 6 star anise pods
- 1 black cardamom
- 2 tablespoons coriander seeds
- ½ tablespoon whole cloves
- 2 tablespoons fennel seeds
Yes, I really did separate each spice one by one and measure them! 😂
Golden Flower Brand
This brand has some interesting ingredients, like black peppercorns and Szechuan peppercorns. Usually, these spices aren't found in pho, but if you're looking for a spicier version, you can give this one a try. Szechuan peppers are more common in Chinese cooking. They have a citrusy, zesty, and slightly floral flavor with a strong, numbing, or tingling sensation on the tongue.
What's inside the bag?
- 1 spice bag
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 4 black cardamoms
- 10 star anise pods
- ½ tablespoon green cardamom
- ½ tablespoon coriander seeds
- ½ tablespoon black peppercorns
- 1 tablespoon Szechuan peppercorns
Helpful Tips For Pho Spices
- Toasting the spices. Toasting whole spices like star anise, cinnamon, cloves, coriander seeds, and fennel seeds in a dry pan for a few minutes before adding them to your broth can help enhance their flavors. This step releases their aromatic oils and deepens the spices' taste. Be cautious not to burn them, as that can make the spices bitter. Toast them in a pan on low heat or on a sheet pan in the oven. I add the larger spices first and then add the smaller ones (coriander seeds and fennel seeds) during the last minute.
- Pho is all about balance. The spices should work harmoniously with the other ingredients. Adjust the quantity of each spice to your taste. You can make your pho spicier by adding more cinnamon or cloves, for example.
- Use a spice bag or a piece of cheesecloth to hold your whole spices while simmering the broth. This makes it easier to remove them when the broth reaches the desired level of flavor without fishing out individual spices. If you don't have a spice bag, you can just dump the spices in and strain them afterward, but be aware that sometimes the spice debris might get into the broth.
- Add the spices halfway through or during the last 30 minutes of simmering. This keeps the broth clear and doesn't overpower the broth.
- Make Extra Broth! Pho broth freezes well, so consider making a larger batch and freezing the extra for future meals. This can save you time and effort the next time you want to enjoy homemade pho.
Frequently Asked Questions
The essential spices are star anise, cinnamon, cloves, and coriander seeds. Sometimes you'll also see fennel seeds and black cardamom used.
Halfway through the cooking process, add the spices to the pot. This keeps the broth clear and doesn't overpower the broth. You can place them in a spice bag or wrap them in a piece of cheesecloth to make it easier to remove them later. This allows the spices to infuse the broth as it simmers.
It depends on the package that you use. The typical spices are cinnamon sticks, star anise, black cardamom, cloves, and coriander seeds.
Yes, the packets are used for a batch of pho. Toast and add all the spice contents into the spice bag that it comes with. Let it simmer in the broth halfway through the cooking time.
- 5 star anise pods
- 2 cinnamon stick
- 1 teaspoon whole cloves
- ½ tablespoon coriander seeds
- 1 black cardamom
- ½ tablespoon fennel seeds (optional)
- In a dry skillet or pan, heat the spices over medium-low heat. Toast them gently for about 2-3 minutes or until they become fragrant. Be cautious not to burn them; the goal is to enhance their flavors. (Tip: Add coriander seeds and fennel seeds during the last minute so that it doesn't burn.)
- Take a piece of cheesecloth, muslin cloth, or any spice bag of your choice, and place the toasted spices inside it.
- In a large pot, simmer your pho broth according to your recipe. Carefully lower the spice bag into the pot during the last 20-30 minutes of the cooking time. The spice bag can be removed when you're satisfied with the level of spiciness and flavor it has added to the broth.