Star Anise (Illicium verum)
Star anise is a pretty star shaped spice which is used predominantly Asian cooking. The spice can be used as either whole pods or the pods can be broken into pieces or ground.
Star anise’s flavour is distinct, sweet and aniseed-like with a fresh, pleasing aftertaste.
True to its name, star anise has a fennel and liquorice-like aroma.
Star anise is an essential ingredient in many Chinese, Vietnamese, Indonesian and Indian dishes. It is one of the spices that combine to make Chinese five spice powder and whole pods are used in pho, a Vietnamese noodle soup. Star anise pairs with chicken, eggs, fish, figs, tropical fruit, soy sauce, leek, pork, pumpkin and root vegetables. It also combines well with chilli, cinnamon, coriander seeds, fennel seeds, garlic, ginger and lemongrass.
Star anise is the fruit of small, green magnolia trees which are native to South-west China. New trees are best started from cuttings or fresh seeds and can grow up to 8 metres tall. Yellow flowers bear fruit from the tree’s 6th year which open out into an eight-pointed star, with each point (or carpel) holding one seed. The fruit are picked before ripening and dried in the sun to harden into what looks like a hand-carved star of brown wood.
Star anise has been used throughout Chinese history for its culinary and medicinal properties. The Japanese used to burn the aromatic bark of the tree for incense. Star anise started being used in Europe from 17th century to flavour syrups, cordials and preserves and is still used in western countries today to flavour drinks, chewing gum and confectionery.
Star anise is often used as a stimulant, in cough syrups and to aid in the relief of nausea, flatulence and fluid retention. In China, star anise carpels are sucked as breath freshener.
Facts about Star Anise
Star anise trees can bear fruit for 100 years or more.
Can I substitute star anise for another spice?
If you have no star anise available, you can use anise or fennel seeds instead. You will need to double the quantities of anise or fennel seeds as star anise’s flavour is much more intense.