Star Anise is the name given to the seed pod of the small evergreen tree Illicium Verum which is indigenous to southwest China and the spice that it produces. The seed pod is shaped like a star and as its Chinese bajiao name would suggest it has eight points (bajiao literally means eight corners). As star anise is a spice it is of course unrelated to anise (Pimpinella anisum), however its flavour is very similar. This is because they both contain the chemical compound anethol which results in the liquorice-like flavour associated with them.
Recently star anise has increased its popularity in the West as it is such an effective substitute for the more expensive anise while being used as flavouring in baking. Star anise is also used in the production of many types of liquor in Europe, most notably by herbal or anise based liquors such as Galliano, sambuca, pastis and many types of absinthes.
The seed pods are harvested just before ripening and are dried in the sun immediately afterwards. Because of the presence of anise and fennel with both also give of a liquorice-like flavour, only small quantities of star anise are used when making absinthe. If used to too great an extent it will also produce a strange taste in the mouth sometimes known as ‘numb tongue’.
In addition to its use in European liquors, star anise is also a common ingredient in Asian cuisine. The spice is commonly found in Sichuanese hot pot and helps add to its famously intense flavour. In India it is an important ingredient in garam masala.
Star anise has also been used medicinally throughout its history. It was a common ingredient used within traditional Chinese medicine particularly as a tea to help cure rheumatism. In modern medicine, star anise has also