A spice that is easily recognized by all, due to its stellar shape, comes from the Magnolia family in China. Its dark and attractive color and unique shape makes it stand out among other spices. It is actually the fruit of an evergreen tree that is harvested while still green and dried until it becomes a hard, nutty-brown seed. There are smaller seeds in each of the 6-8 branches of the star. The Star Anise itself is not eaten as a whole, even though it is used in cooking. The star anise tree does not bear fruit for the first 6 years, but after that it bears fruits for up to one hundred years.
The Star Anise has an unusual and exotic taste, reminiscent of licorice and bronchi. The earthy, minty scent blends in perfectly with autumn and winter moods, making this the main ingredient in mulled/spiked wine and punch, many cold cocktails and anise-based drinks, herbal liqueurs, but also in a variety of holiday cakes. The Star Anise is one of the traditional 5 Chinese spices and they use it in everything from roasted duck to seasoned nuts. In Vietnamese, Indian and Middle Eastern traditional cuisine, it is also one of the main ingredients used to enhance the flavors of various sauces, soups and curries. It goes well combined with citrus and warm spices like cinnamon and clove.
Star anise can be used to make tea, however it is also used to infuse several liqueurs such as absinth, Sambuca and pastis. When dealing with alcoholic beverages, the fruits, leaves and twigs of this plant are used. It is also used as a spice in the preparation of biryani and masala chai throughout the Indian subcontinent.
It is important to be able to differentiate between a Star Anise, Anise grass from the parsley family and Japanese anise, which is poisonous and is solely used as a scent.
Star anise contains as much as 90% of Anethole essential oil. Essential oil is found in the walls of the fruit, and not in the seeds as most would think. The essential oil is added to many cough syrups because it stimulates expectoration. The Star Anise is also great for digestion; it reduces pain and bloating in the stomach and intestines, and has antiseptic and anti-inflammatory properties.
In addition to being a spice in the kitchen, the Star Anise is used in the perfume industry, and in soaps, toothpastes, chewing gum, and cosmetic creams.