What Spices Are in Hot Pot? An In-Depth Look at the Flavor Fundamentals

As you gather around the bubbling broth filled with delicious ingredients, you savor the complex aromas and flavors, but have you ever wondered exactly what spices make hot pot so tasty?

With so many spice combinations across the various regional styles of this iconic dish, it can be hard to pinpoint everything that goes into the pot. As a food blogger and hot pot enthusiast, I’m excited to shed some light on the magic behind this communal dining experience by outlining the key seasonings that infuse hot pots with mouthwatering flavor.

Whether it’s the tongue-numbing heat of Sichuan peppercorns, the fresh zing of ginger and garlic, or the exotic twist of star anise and clove, spices transform hot pot from a basic soup to a sensory experience.

Understanding the spices used in different hot pot traditions allows you to create authentic flavor profiles or experiment with your own fusion. While recipes vary, most hot pots include warming aromatics like chili peppers, robust alliums like onions and scallions, and earthy spices like cumin and coriander.

Let’s uncover the intoxicating spice blends that give hot pot its addictive depth of flavor. It’s time to turn up the heat on your hot pot know-how!

Why Spices Are Key to Hot Pot

Before diving into specific spices, let’s look at why they are so integral to hot pot:

  • Layered flavor – Spices add complexity and depth to simple broths and ingredients
  • Regional authenticity – Certain spice blends define the signature flavors of Sichuan, Thai, Japanese, Korean and Mongolian hot pot
  • Health benefits – Many spices contain antioxidants, anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial properties
  • Aromatics – Warming spices infuse hot pots with tempting aromas
  • Heat – Chili peppers, Sichuan peppercorns, and mustard seed provide tongue-tingling heat
  • Seasoning – Spices enhance and balance flavors instead of just making food taste hot

10 Essential Hot Pot Spices

Here are the top spices used across the major styles of hot pot:

Sichuan Peppercorns

The key spice in Sichuan hot pot delivers floral, citrus and tingling numbing flavors. Also called Szechwan pepper.

Dried Chilies

Various types of dried red chilies provide spicy heat, like cayenne, Arbol, and Tien Tsin.


Pungent, aromatic garlic flavors the broth and offers health benefits. Often minced or crushed.


Fresh ginger adds a bright, zesty punch. It aids digestion too. Better minced than sliced.


Scallions lend fresh onion flavor. Both the white and green parts flavor hot pots.

Star Anise

With an assertive licorice taste, these dried pods add exotic flavor to Chinese hot pots.


A warming spice that infuses broth with subtle sweetness in Chinese and Mongolian recipes.

Fennel Seeds

Provide an anise-like sweetness and faint licorice flavor to many Asian hot pots.


Intensely aromatic, these pods join cumin and coriander in Indian-style hot pots.


Resembling ginger, galangal has piney, citrusy flavor. Used in Thai recipes like Tom Yum hot pot.

Spice Blends by Hot Pot Origin

Now let’s look at popular spice combinations based on hot pot origins:

Chinese Hot Pot

  • Sichuan peppercorns
  • Star anise
  • Cinnamon
  • Dried chilies
  • Garlic, ginger
  • Scallions
  • Soy sauce

Thai Hot Pot (Tom Yum)

  • Galangal
  • Lemongrass
  • Kaffir lime leaves
  • Bird’s eye chilies
  • Lime juice
  • Cilantro
  • Fish sauce

Japanese Hot Pot (Shabu Shabu)

  • Ginger
  • Scallions
  • Dashi stock
  • Sesame oil
  • Ponzu
  • Soy sauce

Korean Hot Pot (Sul Lung Tang)

  • Gochugaru flakes
  • Sesame oil
  • Soy sauce
  • Garlic, scallions
  • Beef bone broth

Mongolian Hot Pot

  • Cumin
  • Coriander
  • Fennel seeds
  • Cayenne powder
  • Cinnamon, star anise
  • garlic, ginger
  • Scallions

Tips for Using Spices in Hot Pots

  • Buy spices whole instead of ground when possible for freshness
  • Toast spices briefly to intensify flavor
  • Add aromatics like garlic, ginger, scallions at the end so they don’t burn
  • Adjust amounts to preference – add more heat or layer in complexity
  • Consider spice bags or strainers if concerned about grittiness
  • Let broth simmer at least 15 minutes for flavors to develop

Balancing Flavors with Spices

  • Heat: chili peppers, Szechuan pepper, mustard seeds
  • Sweet: cinnamon, cloves, cumin
  • Savory: garlic, onion, broth concentrates
  • Bitter: Fenugreek, citrus rinds
  • Aromatic: ginger, lemongrass, galangal

Flavor Profile by Hot Pot Type

Sichuan – Lip numbing heat, warm aromatics

Thai – Zesty, sour, and spicy

Japanese – Clean, dashi umami with sesame

Korean – Savory beef and fermented heat

Mongolian – Warming whole spices and chilies

Hot Pot Spice Combinations to Try

Moroccan – Ras el hanout spice blend, harissa, saffron, cilantro

Indian – Garam masala, cumin, coriander, cardamom, turmeric

Cajun – Cayenne, paprika, oregano, thyme, bay leaf

Jamaican – Jerk seasoning, allspice, habanero, nutmeg, lime

Vietnamese – Lemongrass, chilies, shrimp paste, basil, lime

Storing Spices Properly

  • Keep in airtight containers away from light, heat, and moisture
  • Don’t store near oven or fridge, which are too humid
  • Transfer spices from plastic bags into jars or tins
  • Buy whole spices whenever possible and grind as needed
  • Mark purchase date on containers and use within 1-2 years
  • Smell spices periodically and replace if aroma fades

Ready, Set, Spice!

The beauty of hot pot is that while traditions exist, there’s also room for creativity. Now that you know the flavor foundations, you can start experimenting with your own spice blends and combinations. Adjust heat, aromatics and complexity until you find your perfect profile. Just beware – once you master the spices, your hot pot may become dangerously habit-forming. Now who’s ready to gather around the steaming, aromatic, bubbling pot? Let’s dip in!

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Bill Kalkumnerd
Bill Kalkumnerd

I am Bill, I am the Owner of HappySpicyHour, a website devoted to spicy food lovers like me. Ramen and Som-tum (Papaya Salad) are two of my favorite spicy dishes. Spicy food is more than a passion for me - it's my life! For more information about this site Click

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