Spice of the Month: Star Anise
This spice is known for its distinctive licorice flavor and is an ingredient in one of my favorite liquors, arrack.
This member of the parsley family dates back to at least 1500 B.C. For centuries, the seed was used to help with digestion. In India it was eaten after a meal to aid not only in digestion but also act as a breath freshener.
Star anise is the fruit of a small oriental tree. Its shape resembles a star with an average of 8 boat-shaped points. The points are actually seed pods which are hard-skinned and brownish-red in color. The anise seed (found inside the pods) has a greenish-brown color. Star anise is picked before it ripens and is then dried. It has a unique, sweet licorice flavor. You can find star anise whole or ground into a reddish-brown powder.
Star anise has been used as an herb to help fight coughs and the flu. It’s also been used to help with digestive issues like gas and upset stomach and to help increase sex drive. Although star anise is safe for use in cooking, it hasn’t been studied thoroughly enough to know if it's safe for medicinal use. Always ask your physician or registered dietitian before taking it in supplement form.
The gorgeous whole star anise can also be used to garnish a plate or float in a pot of tea. Due to its very potent flavor, star anise is often broken into pieces when used in cooking and the powdered form is used when baking.
Powdered star anise is one of the flavors used in Chinese 5 spice and is used in many Asian dishes. On its own, star anise can be used in both savory and sweet dishes. Combine with hot peppers to flavor duck and pork, add it to soups and broths, or use 3-5 pods in a stir fry, curry dish or braised beef. The spice compliments tomato dishes very nicely—add a single pod to tomato sauce, chili or stew. Infuse the licorice flavor by adding it to jam or compote or steep in tea and hot chocolate. Star anise can easily be substituted for anise seed in recipes. Anise seed is more potent; use ½ to 2/3 less than called for in the recipe.
Store whole star anise in a re-sealable container in a cool, dry place for up to 1 year.