Spices: Anise and Star Anise


One of the oldest known spices, Anise is sweet and very aromatic with a strong flavour. Anise is the oval shaped dried seeds of an annual herb related to cumin and fennel. The origin is Eastern Mediterranean, perhaps Egypt, or West Asia. Turkey is an important producer today, but better product comes from Spain. It is also grown in India.

In far Eastern cuisines (Indian, Iranian, Indonesian) little distinction is made between anise and fennel, and the same name is usually given to both. In the Philippines, star anise is called anise as well.

The seeds of the anise plant are used most often in cooked dishes, and the leaves can also be used in salads and soups. The seeds have been used for centuries to flavour breads, cakes, curries and liqueurs (for example the wonderful Greek ouzo, French pernod, and raki). In the West, usage is mainly restricted to bread and cakes and occasionally, breadfruit! In the East, it is less well known, with fennel and star anise being favoured. Anise may be used as a substitute for fennel in Northern India recipes, but it is a less suitable substitute for star anise.

Anise appears occasionally in Mexican recipes, but their native anise flavoured herbs of Mexican tarragon and Mexican pepper-leaf are more widely used.

Chewing anise seeds aids digestion, and the Romans ate anise flavoured cakes after gastronomic orgies! It is also a mild expectorant and so is often added to cough mixtures.

Star Anise

Star Anise is unrelated to Anise. It is a star shaped collection of pods, dry, brownish-black in colour with a delicate anise flavour like anise but stronger.It is the sun-dried fruit of a member of the magnolia family native to China and Vietnam.

Star Anise is used in its dried state frequently along India’s Western coast where the trade with China started in ancient times. The essential oil lies in the seed pod, not in the seeds! It is used in soups, infusions, curries and masala powders and pastes. It is an essential ingredient in Chinese Five Spice Powder.

Star Anise

Its frangrance is delicate and liquorish-like, and its taste is somewhat like anise, but stronger, warm, sweet and aromatic. It originates from Southern China, Laos, Philippines, Jamaica and Vietnam, and most imports come from China where it is very popular. Nowhere else uses it as extensively as China, however it does feature in Vietnamese, Persian, Pakistani, India, Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand cuisines.

Star anise has found limited use in the West, where its main application is as a (cheaper) substitute for anise in mulled wine, desserts and, most importantly, in liqueurs. Most anise liqueurs (Pernod, Anisette, Pastis) have the anise partly substituted by star anise.

Lemon Marmalade with Star Anise
Lemon Marmalade with Star Anise

If a pod of star anise is called for in a recipe, think of a pod as a petal of the flower, and break off one section.

Feel free to browse other recipes from our Retro Recipes series. You might also liked our Spice recipes here and here.

Baked Apples with Star Anise
Baked Apples with Star Anise