What are Pho Spices, and How to Use them?

Pho is a Vietnamese soup with lots of nutritional value. It has become a popular comfort food. Pho spices are an essential ingredient to get you an aromatic and flavorful bowl of pho.

A pho bowl is filled with rice noodles, chicken or beef strips, and many fresh and dried herbs and spices. The bone broth with plenty of spices is simmered for 4-5 hours, and in the end, meat strips, noodles, and herbs are added just before serving.

Spices are a significant part of Pho. It gives it a fragrance broth and its distinct taste and depth. If you are making pho at home from scratch, you might want to know about these spices and how they can change the broth’s flavor. Read more about how pho is better than any other soup.

This article will discuss spices for a flavorful pho broth and how to use them.

What is the Importance of Spices in Pho Broth?

Spices give a flavor, taste, and aroma to the broth. Primarily we use dried spiced to water with bones. It provides warmth to the broth. Fresh spices are also used, but they are added towards the end. Two things you need to take care of are pho meat and spices. We’ll discuss spices in this article, but you should also check out our Ultimate Guide to Pho Meats (with pictures) as well

An important thing to remember about these dried spices is that despite their excellent flavor and fragrance. Adding spices like star anise, cinnamon stick, or dried cardamon can taste bitter. So a balance of spices is essential for flavor. 

Here we have discussed some spices used in pho for primary flavors. 

Star Anise

hand holding a handful of star anise close up

Star anise is a crucial spice for pho. It’s a star-like spice with petals. It has a powerful aroma and flavor as well. Only add 2-3 pieces in a pot full of water, as too much can add some bitterness to the pho.

Cinnamon Stick

It’s another spice used in pho. It has a warm flavor and blends with star anise to give a strong aroma to pho.

Corriander Seed

hand showing a handful of whole coriander seeds close up

One of the very common spices, coriander seed, is an earthy spice used more for taste than the aroma. Corriander seeds are light and have a mild flavor that blends well with other spices.

Fennel Seed

hand holding whole fennel seeds close up

These have a slight aroma but are not as strong as star anise or cinnamon. It has a licorice-like aroma.


hand holding whole cloves close up - pho spices

Cloves have a powerful aroma and flavor. Too much can overpower all other flavors. They have a musky smell.

Black Cardamom

It’s another robust flavor. Too much can make the broth bitter. Green cardamon has a different aroma, but black cardamom has a smoky taste and smell.

Some Tips on Using the Spices

When it comes to the dried spices, make sure you don’t grab a mix of all.

Buying a pack of mixed spices seems like an easy solution, and you can add a tablespoon to the broth, but it is not the right way. Try to have the right measurement for each spice and add accordingly. As we said, even one additional black cardamon can disturb the balance of broth, and it may taste bitter.

See recipe below for the best ratios!

Use whole Spices 

Powdered spices may not have the same flavor as the whole one. Secondly, powdered spices can alter the color of broth, and it will look dark. You can add whole spices in a cotton cloth or any spice packet used for this purpose and discard them afterward. They are only for flavor and aroma; once the broth is ready, you can strain it and have a clear golden broth. 

Roast the Spices

Some spices like clove, cardamon, and coriander seeds taste way better if you heat them immediately before adding to the broth. These dried spices have oils, and a little heat activates them and releases fragrance. The small step can give a whole new to the broth. You can roast in the oven for a few minutes as well. If you do it on the stovetop, be mindful that we’re not using oils! Just dry roast them for a few minutes until fragrant.

top view of pho spices in small bowls - coriander, fennel, star anise, ginger

Check Shelf Life

Dry spices are not used in large quantities. Even if you don’t buy bulk spices, they stay there for a long time. These dried spices do not go rancid easily and have an optimal shelf life of one to two years. But still, make sure you check the shelf life of roasted pho spice packets before adding them to water.

Use a Tea Filter

Add all basic spices to the tea infuser and put it into the broth. You can use a small cotton cloth as well. Simply tie everything in it and discard it later. Spice bags are also available with varied spices packed in a bag that you can add to boiling broth and later discard. 

Final Words

Beef broths for pho have a distinct flavor of bolder spices. These species give aroma to the broth and have numerous health and digestion values. You can use loose spices or buy a pho broth spices packet from the market. The essential spices are star anise, cloves, black cardamom, and coriander seeds. You can purchase loose spices or authentic pho spice blends available in the market.

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whole star anise, whole cinnamon stick and other spices laid out on table

Pho Spice Packet

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Fragrant spices of pho are essential to a flavorful and aromatic bowl of pho. This recipe makes 4 bags, each one enough to cook a large pot of pho for 4!


  • 4 tablespoon coriander seeds
  • 4 tablespoon fennel seeds
  • 8 black cardamom pods
  • 12 whole cloves
  • 40 whole star anise pods
  • 4x tea bag or other spice bag


1. On a small skillet, roast the spices over medium heat (with no oil) until fragrant, around 2-3 minutes

2. Let cool and transfer to spice bag. Store in airtight container for up to 3 months.


1. Use whole spices whenever possible instead of ground, for best flavor. Powdered versions here would make the broth a cloudy color instead of clear.

  • Prep Time: 5
  • Cook Time: 3

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