What is this flavor in Chinese pork buns?

It’s difficult to describe, as I’ve never tasted it in any other food and my wife doesn’t seem to notice it. To me, after I chew and swallow a bite of pork bun there’s a sort of bitter, astringent aftertaste. In a similar vein, Nutrasweet tastes bitter to me but not to available light. But the pork bun flavor is something else, and I don’t know what. It’s not MSG either, I know what that tastes like.

It may be cilantro

People’s sensitivity to taste varies considerably, and there is a genetic component. To some people cilantro tastes exactly like soap, and in small quantities soap could be described as “bitter astringent”. If your wife doesn’t carry the cilantro=soap gene, though, she won’t taste that effect no matter how much cilantro is present.

Could it be some component of five spice?

Equal parts ground cinnamon, fennel, star anise, cloves, and Szechwan pepper. It is often used in meat marinades and as a spice in barbequing.

You probably bit into a piece of star anise. I don’t think that it’s particularly bitter, but the flavor is quite intense.

No, I’ve had salsa fresca with lots of cilantro, it’s not that. The star anise is a possibility.

I apologize for the slight off-topic, but I have to say that Chinese pork buns are proof of God’s existence, as far as I’m concerned.

This reminds me that it’s been several weeks since I’ve had dim sum. Time to remedy that…

You guys talking 'bout [char siu bow](Char siu)?

Maybe Sesame Oil?


I believe that is the Chinese name, but I’m not sure.

The flavor is not sesame oil or (once again) MSG, I’ve used both of those separately. I suppose I’ll have to get some star anise and try a bit straight.

Might be some type of fermented bean, too. These are often salty and may taste ‘off’.

If you’re talking about a standard BBQ pork bun, there’s really no star anise in the bun. It’s just the BBQ pork that’s inside the bun. Now, there is the possibility that some spice was used to make the BBQ sauce in which the pork was cooked, and that this spice (maybe anise) was not chopped up right.

Well, it turns out I had a bottle of five spice lying around, so I tried a little pinch straight. Bleh. It’s definitely something in there, although my mixture also includes white pepper, ginger, and licorice, so I suppose it should be called “eight spice”. I think the combination of star anise and cloves might be the culprit. I don’t know if licorice is usually part of the mix, but that might be part of the taste I don’t like also.

Char Siu pork is usually made with soy sauce, hoisin sauce(“plum sauce”), honey, sugar, ginger and chinese five-spice( cinnamon (actually a type of cassia), powdered cassia buds, powdered star anise and anise seed, ginger root, and ground cloves-from WIKI). :smiley: