Star anise is the dried fruit of a small to medium evergreen tree. The tree bears fruit after about 6 years and can have a productive life of up to 100 years. Each point of the star-shaped husk contains a shiny amber-coloured seed. Both the seed and husk are used for the ground spice.
Native range Southern China, Vietnam
Major producers China, Vietnam, India, Japan, Philippines
Harvesting The fruits are harvested before they ripen and sun-dried which hardens and darkens the carpels and develops the aromatic compounds.
Taste and aroma The aroma is fennel- and anise-like, with warm notes of liquorice. The flavour is pungent and sweet, and distinctly liquorice-like.
Culinary uses Star anise is one of the most important spices in Chinese cuisine and it is the dominant flavour in Chinese five spice powder. In Chinese and Vietnamese cooking, star anise is used in soups and stocks, and in meat preparations especially chicken and pork. Star anise is also a regular ingredient in the cuisine of southern India. It is little used in western cuisine, but is excellent for enhancing the sweetness of leeks, pumpkin, and root vegetables.
Other uses Star anise is an essential flavouring agent in drinks such as pastis and anisette, and in chewing gum and confectionery. It is also used in cough medicines, and sometimes added to pet foods.
Historical uses Star anise has a long history of medicinal and culinary use in Asian countries. It was known in Europe in the 17th century, and old recipes indicate that is was mostly used to flavour syrups, cordials, and preserves.
Storage The whole spice will last for up to a year if kept away from bright light in an airtight container. The ground spice lasts for only 2-3 months so should be bought in small quantities.