Star anise is the dried star-shaped fruit, including the seeds, of the Anise tree. The trees, related to magnolias, grow to 25 feet when mature. Most star anise is grown in southern China, Japan and Indo China. Star anise is used for flavoring dishes both in the West, as an addition or replacement of aniseed, a relative of the parsley family in the East.
The reddish-brown 1 1/4-inch long fruit is picked before it is ripe and dried. It has from five to 10 pods arranged in a star shape. The pods are intensely licorice flavored with a bitter aftertaste. Most of that flavor is in the fruit casing rather than the seeds. The seeds are not separated from the pods when used in cooking.
The whole dried fruit is added to dishes as they cook or the ground powder is used instead. The flavor is intense and has the tendency to be overpowering. Add less to a dish to begin with and increase the amount gradually. The whole star may be left in the dish. If it’s chewed its apparent pungent taste could be overwhelming. Place the spice with other herbs in a square of cheesecloth tied at the top. Fish out the bag before serving.
The dried fruit is used in Asian dishes in countries such as Vietnam, China and Japan. It is the flavoring for thousand-year-old eggs, which are marbled and flavored with the spice. The five spice powder used in Chinese dishes includes the ground spice as well as fennel seeds –another licorice flavored seed, Szechwan pepper, cloves and cinnamon. Five spice powder is commonly used in meat dishes that are cooked in a rich broth or sauce for several hours.
The whole star will last for at least a year if stored in an airtight container. Grind the fruit right before using, as it will lose flavor if ground and then stored for long periods of time.
The licorice flavor goes well with sweets and in candy. However, a sweetener must be used. In the west, anise is added to fruit compotes, jams and jellies. It’s also the major flavoring component for anise flavored liqueurs.