Certainly one of the most spectacular looking spices, Star Anise is also called anise star, Chinese anise and star aniseed. The Chinese translation for Star Anise is “eight points” and most have eight points and these are also referred to as arms, carpals or petals. Star Anise can be found with as few as five or as many as twelve points. Chinese folklore has it that those with more than 8 points bring good luck.
Native to eastern China and northeastern Vietnam, star anise is now grown in China, France, India, Italy, Jamaica, Laos, Morocco, the Philippines and Spain with the major producers located in China and Vietnam. Our Star Anise is imported from Vietnam.
It has an almost perfect name with its classic star shape and the aroma of star anise is similar to anise seed and fennel but a bit more pungent. The taste is a bit sweet with licorice undertones and it provides a warm and mild numbing effect in the mouth. Like anise seed, Star Anise gets its distinctive licorice taste from a chemical compound called anethol.
Star Anise is actually the fruit of an evergreen tree (Illicium Verum) in the Magnolia family. The tree doesn’t bear fruit until its 6th year but can continue to produce fruit for up to 100 years. Star Anise is the tree’s seed pod and is about inch in diameter and is a dark brown rust color. Each petal holds a polished, shiny, tan colored seed.
It is very versatile and works well in baked goods, chilled desserts, sauces, soups, stews and with red meats. Best when used as an accent flavor as a single point can add wonderful layers of complex flavor and aroma which makes it a favorite secret ingredient of both professional and home chefs. Be careful not to use too much as it can easily overpower.
One of the key Chinese spices, along with ginger, cinnamon and Sichuan peppercorns, Star Anise’s licorice flavor intensifies the slow cooked dishes of Eastern Chinese cuisine, especially red cooked (braised in a dark broth) dishes of chicken, duck and pork. It’s used in the preparation of the Persian rice based dish Biryani, in several of Vietnam's signature dishes, such as Pho Bo soup and it’s also the secret ingredient in many Indian curries and stews.
A favorite of bakers along with their allspice, Vietnamese Cinnamon, clove and nutmeg. Unlike most spices its flavor effortlessly infuses into water and fat-based liquids, making it easy to add to both fruit (especially citrus) and butter-based desserts. Use it in your next apple pie, gingerbread or spice cake recipe and they’ll be asking for your secret.
Also playing a leading role in the popular spice blend Chinese Five Spice and in several versions of Garam Masala and Masala Chai.
In the whole form Star Anise will last for 2-3 years and you can easily break off petals as needed. They're large enough that you shouldn't have much trouble picking them out of your dish before serving (we love to throw a couple of petals in rice when it’s cooking).
While whole stars that aren’t broken are one of nature’s most beautiful sights the reality is all you really need are the broken pieces or ground Star Anise. Since the stars are either removed or infused completely into the dish it doesn’t make sense to pay the high premium some spice companies charge to hand sift through the 100 lb sacks. You should avoid star anise that has excessive amounts of leaves or larger woody stems as this shows a lower quality product.
When using broken Star Anise use 3-5 points in each dish for stir fries or curries and if you are using them in pickling use 2-3 petals per quart of liquid. For baking we tend to prefer to use Ground Star Anise.
If you are substituting for anise seed only use about 1/3 of what the recipe calls for.
Star Anise goes well with chicken (especially in stock), fish, figs, citrus fruits, leeks, oxtail, pork, pumpkin and root vegetables.
Also works well in combination with cassia cinnamon, chili powder, coriander, fennel, garlic, ginger, lemon grass and Sichuan peppercorns.