With its spicy, warm, fennel-like flavor, star anise is perfect for use in both sweet and savory dishes. It’s one of the most popular spices in southern Chinese cuisine.
Star Anise as a Spice
Star anise has only been used as a spice for the past 500 years or so. Before that, it was used mainly as incense or for medicinal purposes. It quickly became one of the most popular spices in southern China, where it is used to flavor salty and aromatic dishes. The warm, sweet, slightly bitter flavor of star anise is reminiscent of fennel, anise and licorice. The spice is also extremely popular in Europe — it is often used to flavor baked goods and desserts during the festive period. The dried follicles, which are found in each spike of the star-shaped fruit, are used as a spice. In ground form, star anise forms part of the famous five-spice powder.
Star anise is used to flavor savory dishes such as meat and fish dishes, soups and sauces, as well as sweet dishes such as jams, teas, desserts, compotes and festive bakes. However, it should be used sparingly, as its flavor can soon overpower all others. The spikes on the star anise can be broken off if a more exact amount is required for a dish. The flavors of star anise really shine when combined with fennel, licorice, cinnamon, galangal, chili or oranges. Star anise is one of the few spices not to lose its flavor even when stored for a long period of time, so it can be stored whole in the spice cabinet for years without degrading.
The star-shaped shell of star anise makes an excellent decoration — just remember not to eat it!
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The evergreen star anise tree is endemic to the mountains of northern Vietnam, where it is still grown today in small plantations at altitudes of over 2000 meters. The tree grows to an average height of 10 meters and bears light yellow flowers, from which the star-shaped fruits grow. The red-brown fruits are still harvested by hand. Star anise fruits consist of usually eight, but sometimes up to twelve, segments and are used as a spice after they have dried in the sun. Despite having a similar flavor and name, star anise is not botanically related to anise. The star anise tree is actually a distant relative of the nutmeg tree.
- Scientific Name
- Illicium Verum
- Star anise family (Illiciaceae)
- Other Names
- Badian, Chinese star anise, staranise
- Northern Vietnam