This beautiful, unique spice is widely used in Chinese cookery. Although totally unrelated, it contains the same essential oils as anise, (anethole and anisole), but with a spicier, warmer flavour, with just a hint of bitterness.
How to Cook
In Chinese cookery, star anise is one of the ingredients in five-spice powder, which consists of equal quantities of star anise, cassia or cinnamon, fennel seeds and Sichuan peppercorns, ground to a fine powder with a half-quantity of cloves.
Ayurveda and herbal medicine use star anise as a digestive aid, relieving flatulence and stomach disorders. Oriental medicine uses it in a linked way to cure colic. Chewing seeds after a meal is said to help you digest your meal more easily. More recently, star anise has proved its use in modern medicine – one of the components of anti-flu drug Tamiflu is shikimic acid extracted from star anise plants.
Star anise’s generic name is derived from the Latin verb illicere, to attract, because of its pleasant smell. An evergreen, related to the Magnolia family, the tree only produces its small, compound fruits after 15 years and then yielding just three annual harvests. The fruit itself is made up of eight rough, dark brown carpels, around 1cm long, containing a shiny, light brown, almost bronze, seed. These radiate from a central stalk to produce a ‘star’. Cultivation is difficult and transplantation problems mean that it is almost exclusively grown in South China and northern Southeast Asia. It’s said to have first been brought to Europe by an English sailor sometime in the 16th century, and was soon adopted for use in jams, puddings and syrups.