Star anise is the fruit of a type of Magnolia tree which is native to China and Vietnam. Star anise is unrelated to the Spanish anise seed, but both spices contain anethole, which gives both their distinctive licorice-like flavor. Star anise is used traditionally as tea to ease rheumatism pains. Industrially, star anise is used in creating the anti-influenza drug Tamiflu.
Beautiful to look at, fragrant and delicious to smell and taste, star anise has a more robust flavor than anise seed. Star anise looks like a 12-pointed spicy brown snowflake or flower. The aroma of star anise is much like fennel and anise; its taste is pungent and sweet with hints of licorice. Star anise has an assertive warm kick.
Star anise is a star [yuk, yuk] player in the cooking of India, China, and southeast Asia. Star anise lends its distinctive flavor to Indian biryani, is widely used in Chinese stocks and soups, is a major component of the Indian garam masala and Chinese five-spice spice blends, and figures prominently in in Malay and Indonesian cuisine. Star anise is also a major ingredient of Vietnamese pho, and of masala chai tea.
Use whole star anise for crafts, as garnishes, or in dishes where the presentation matters. Ground star anise is perfect for baking, barbecue sauces, and meat rubs. Use it sparingly--a little goes a long way.
Star anise enhances the flavor of meat - combining especially well with pork and duck. We have used it with great results in Mexican carnets. Star anise is delicious in roasted chicken, light soups, clear broths, rice pudding, steamed cabbage and braised leeks. For a spicy sweet flavor, add a star inside the cavity of a whole chicken before roasting.