So, what is Star Anise?
Star anise comes by its name honestly, with its star shape and a licorice taste similar to regular anise, only stronger. Star anise is the seed pod of an evergreen tree (Illicium Verum) grown in southwestern China and Japan. It is about one inch high with eight segments and a dark brown rust color. Like regular anise, star anise gets its distinctive licorice taste from a chemical compound called anethol. However the two are not related botanically - star anise is a member of the Magnolia family.
Using Star Anise in CookingStar anise plays a key role in the slow cooked dishes that characterize Eastern Chinese cuisine. Its licorice flavor enhances red cooked dishes, as well as eggs simmered in black tea. Star anise is one of the spices in five-spice powder.
Outside of China, star anise is featured in several of Vietnam's signature dishes, such as Pho Bo soup. It is also the secret ingredient in many Indian stews and curries. Star anise can replace regular anise in western recipes.
Medical Uses of Star AniseIn traditional Chinese medicine, star anise is prescribed as a digestive aid and to help cure colic in babies. More recently, Shikimic Acid, extracted from star anise, is one of the chief ingredients in the antiviral Tamiflu drug used to fight avian influenza.
Purchasing, Storage, and PreparationStar anise is available in packages in Asian supermarkets. When purchasing star anise, look for whole pieces that aren’t broken. At home, store star anise in a sealed container in a cool dark place. Properly stored, star anise will last for several months. Discard once the flavor fades.
In slow cooked or simmered dishes, star anise is usually added whole (not broken into pieces) and discarded before serving. Occasionally, you may find stir-fry recipes calling for ground star anise.
Recipe: Sweet Potatoes with Star Anise, Ginger, and Lime
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 star anise, finely crushed
1-inch piece fresh ginger, finely grated
1 lime, zested and juiced
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
Freshly ground pepper
Preheat oven to 425°F.
In a large bowl, combine all ingredients and toss. Arrange potatoes in a single layer on a baking sheet.
Roast for 10 minutes, then shake or flip the potatoes over. Continue roasting for 10 minutes or until tender and slightly browned.
Serve warm or at room temperature.
Variation: There's a nice depth of flavor that comes from roasting all of the ingredients together, but those who really love ginger and lime might enjoy this variation. Instead of adding the ginger, lime zest and juice to the olive oil mixture, toss them with the potatoes after roasting for a hotter and zestier flavor.