Herbs and spices are a great way to give flavor to food. Just a little bit can make a bland tasting meal suddenly taste great! One spice that is used in savory dishes but sometimes in sweet ones as well is star anise. This star shaped spice is used most often to give a licorice flavor, like anise but stronger, to savory dishes.
Star anise comes from a small evergreen tree that is native to China and Vietnam. It’s fruit is picked before it’s ripe and then dried. Star anise is used in Asian cuisines such as Chinese, Indian (garam masala), Malay-Indonesian, and Vietnamese (Pho, a broth noodle soup usually made with thin slices of beef). Star anise is also a major part of the Chinese five-spice powder.
Teas are a usually how you would use star anise for medicinal purposes. It’s said to help with digestion and previously was used to help with colic in babies but has since been deemed dangerous (though this maybe be caused from the use of Japanese star anise). There are some people who even chew the dried fruit after eating to help aid in digestion. Shikimic Acid also has been extracted from the star anise to be used in an antiviral drug that is used to fight the bird flu.
If storing star anise, keep it in an air tight container. This will make it last up to a year. When buying star anise, get the whole pieces that aren’t broken. Also make certain you are getting the Chinese variety, which should be on the label. Do not use the Japanese variety, because it is poisonous. It is burned as an incense instead of using it for food.
Star anise is a great and easy way to give a touch of flavor to Asian cuisine as well as a good substitute for anise in other dishes. It can be used to give different type of flavor depending on what the dish it’s added to needs to reflect, sweet or savory. A little can go a long way with star anise, but it’ll liven up any dish!
Photo by wonderferret.