With its distinctive shape and flavor, star anise is quickly becoming one of the most sought-after spices in the world, particularly due to its possible health benefits. Its wonderfully aromatic flavor profile is reminiscent of licorice or fennel, with a warming sweetness.
Star anise has a striking artful appearance that resembles a small rust-colored star. It is a seed pod from the fruit of the Illicium verum plant, an evergreen shrub native to Southwest China. The star-shaped pod usually has between 6 to 8 points, each point containing a small pea-sized seed that is the flavor epicenter. The spice gives a sweet, licorice-y flavor to dishes similar to clove and aniseed. Both the seeds and the pod are used in cooking. The star-shaped fruits are harvested before they begin to ripen.
Star anise and aniseed are often confused with each other due to their similar taste and name. However, these two spices are not from the same plant family—star anise is from the magnolia whereas aniseed is from the parsley family. The seeds also differ in appearance; star anise seeds are larger and a dark reddish-brown color while aniseeds are smaller and look similar to fennel seeds.
The major culinary difference between anise and star anise is that aniseed is potent, with an almost spicy flavor, while star anise is subtly milder. They can be used interchangeably in recipes, but amounts must be adjusted to accommodate the mildness of the Asian ingredient. Ground star anise is a common spice in Indian cuisine, used in the spice blends with garam masala and drinks such as chai. It can also be added to pumpkin dishes and gingerbread for another layer of flavor.
Star anise has been used as not only a spice but also for health and medicinal purposes for more than 3,000 years. Because of its sweet flavor, star anise was mainly used in jams, syrups, and puddings and later substituted in commercial drinks for anise seed. Star anise also adds a smokey, spicy sweetness that elevates savory dishes as it pairs well with citrus, onions, poultry, beef, cinnamon, nutmeg, and ginger. In India, it is used in biryanis and other rice dishes and in curries. Like bay leaves, star anise is not eaten and is removed and discarded from the dish before serving.
Health Benefits of Star Anise
As mentioned above, star anise has also long been recognized in many cultures for its health and wellness benefits due to its high level of antioxidants, including linalool, quercetin, thymol, terpineol, caffeic acid, anethole, kaempferol, and coumaric acid, as well as a significant amount of iron. Star anise also delivers vitamin C, calcium, potassium and magnesium as well as active compounds and organic acids, shikimic acid, fats, and dietary fiber, making it quite literally a rock star when it comes to nutritional benefits.
With so many notable health benefits, the use of star anise as a regular ingredient in any healthy diet continues to grow. Some of these health benefits may include the potential ability to lower the risk of cancer, promote healthy skin, prevent fungal infections, support respiratory health, stimulate the immune system, optimize digestion, boost circulation, and even aid sleep.
To see star anise in action, spice up your baking with one of our favorite Fall Apple Pie recipes. We have added the unique flavors of star anise and other Fall flavors in our SugarRoti Chai Nu Spice blend to give this apple pie a uniquely delicious taste that will become a new staple in your home once you try it!
Other recipes that showcase this “super star” spice: