Star Anise: Discover Its Origins, Taste, and Cooking Uses

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Illicium verum, commonly called star anise, star aniseed, or Chinese star anise is a spice that closely resembles anise in flavor, obtained from the star-shaped pericarp of Illicium verum, a medium-sized native evergreen tree of northeast Vietnam and southwest China. The star-shaped fruits are harvested just before ripening. Star anise oil is a highly fragrant oil using in cooking, perfumery, soaps, toothpastes, mouthwashes, and skin creams. 90% of the world’s star anise crop is used for extraction of a chemical intermediate used in the synthesis of oseltamivir.

It’s important to know the difference between star anise and anise seed. Although they look similar, they have very different flavors and uses. Let’s get into that.

What is star anise

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Star Anise: A Guide to Everything You Need to Know

Star anise is a spice that is native to China and is commonly used in Asian dishes. It is named after its star-shaped appearance and is referred to as a traditional Chinese spice. Star anise is a fruit that comes from an evergreen tree and contains a key ingredient called anethole, which gives it a sweet and licorice-like flavor.

Where Can You Buy and Store Star Anise?

Star anise can be found in most grocery stores in the spice aisle. It is commonly sold in whole pods or ground into a powder. When storing star anise, it is best to keep it in an airtight container in a cool, dry place. This will help to preserve its flavor and aroma for a longer period of time.

What Are the Benefits and Potential Risks of Star Anise?

Star anise contains many beneficial compounds, including antioxidants and anti-inflammatory properties. It has been used in traditional Chinese medicine for centuries to treat a variety of ailments. However, it is important to note that star anise contains a compound called shikimic acid, which can be toxic in large amounts. It is best to use star anise in moderation and consult with a healthcare professional before using it for medicinal purposes.

What Are Some Familiar Dishes That Use Star Anise?

Star anise is a common ingredient in many Asian dishes, including:

  • Pho soup
  • Spiced duck
  • Beef dishes
  • Braised pork
  • Five-spice powder
  • Chinese red-braised dishes

What Are Some Tips for Cooking with Star Anise?

If you’re new to cooking with star anise, here are some tips to get you started:

  • Start with a small amount and add more as needed
  • Use whole pods instead of ground star anise for a stronger flavor
  • Combine star anise with other spices to create a unique flavor profile
  • Remove the star anise pods before serving the dish to prevent accidental ingestion

Where Can You Find Star Anise Substitutes?

If you don’t have star anise on hand, there are several substitutes that you can use instead. Some common substitutes include:

  • Anise seed
  • Fennel seed
  • Chinese five-spice powder
  • Licorice root

The Origins of Star Anise: A Spice Rooted in Chinese History

Star anise, also known as Illicium verum, is a spice that originated in China. It comes from the fruit of an evergreen tree that belongs to the magnolia family. The tree produces small, greenish-yellow flowers that eventually develop into star-shaped pods containing seeds. These pods are also known as carpels or follicles.

Indigenous Use and Commercial Trade

Star anise has been used in Chinese medicine for centuries due to its various health benefits. It was also used as a spice in cooking, particularly in Chinese cuisine. The spice was eventually traded commercially and made its way to Europe, where it became popular in English cooking.

The Difference Between Star Anise and Anise Seed

Although both star anise and anise seed are used as spices, they come from different plants. Anise seed comes from the Pimpinella anisum plant, while star anise comes from the Illicium verum tree. While both spices have a licorice-like flavor, star anise has a stronger and more distinct taste.

What’s the Flavor of Star Anise?

Star anise is a spice that has a distinct sweet and spicy flavor. The spice is commonly used in Asian cuisine, especially in Chinese and Vietnamese dishes. The spice is an essential ingredient in the famous Chinese five-spice powder.

Licorice Aroma and Taste

The aroma of star anise is similar to licorice, but the taste is more potent and intense. The spice has a warm, sweet, and slightly bitter taste that can be overpowering if used excessively.

Pairs Well with Szechuan and Roast

Star anise is a versatile spice that pairs well with many different flavors. Some of the best pairings include Szechuan peppercorns, cinnamon, and cloves. The spice is also an excellent addition to roasted meats, especially pork and duck.

Dried Pods

Star anise is available in whole or ground form, but the whole pods are more commonly used in cooking. The dried pods are dark brown and have a star shape with eight points.

Distinct Spice

Star anise is a distinct spice that can add a unique flavor to any dish. It’s essential to use the spice in moderation to avoid overpowering other flavors.

In summary, star anise is a sweet and spicy spice with a licorice aroma and taste. It pairs well with Szechuan and roast flavors and is available in dried pod form. It’s a distinct spice that can add a unique flavor to any dish.

Star Anise vs Anise Seed: What’s the Difference?

  • Star anise and anise seed come from different plants
  • Star anise comes from a tree native to China and Vietnam
  • Anise seed comes from a plant native to the eastern Mediterranean and Southwest Asia

Appearance and Flavor Profile

  • Star anise is star-shaped with eight points and is larger than anise seed
  • Anise seed is small and dark brown
  • Both have a licorice-like flavor, but star anise is sweeter and more strongly flavored than anise seed
  • Star anise has a spicy, warming flavor that can be adjusted to taste
  • Anise seed has a milder, more delicate flavor

Culinary Uses

  • Star anise is commonly used in Asian dishes, particularly in Chinese and Japanese cuisine
  • Anise seed is used in Mediterranean, Italian, and Middle Eastern dishes
  • Both are used in baked goods, savory dishes, and as a spice in cooking
  • Star anise is a common ingredient in pho, a Vietnamese noodle soup
  • Anise seed is often used in savory dishes with vegetables like carrots, fennel, and parsley

Medicinal and Health Benefits

  • Both star anise and anise seed have been used for their medicinal properties for centuries
  • Star anise has been given to help prevent coughs and aid digestion
  • Anise seed has been used to help with digestion and as a natural remedy for bad breath
  • Both have positive effects on the mouth and can help prevent bad breath

Substituting Star Anise and Anise Seed

  • Star anise and anise seed can be substituted for each other in recipes, but the flavor will differ
  • If substituting star anise for anise seed, use less as it has a stronger flavor profile
  • If substituting anise seed for star anise, use more to get a similar flavor profile
  • Fennel seeds can be a good substitute for anise seed in a pinch

Where to Buy and How to Store

  • Both star anise and anise seed can be purchased at most grocery stores and online
  • Check with your local expert or Asian grocery store for a wider selection
  • Star anise and anise seed should be stored in a dry, dark place for longer shelf life
  • Fresh star anise can be stored in the freezer to extend its shelf life

Despite their similarities, star anise and anise seed have important differences in their flavor profile, culinary uses, and medicinal benefits. Knowing the difference between these two spices can help you find the right substitute when needed and add a great flavor to your dishes.

Whole vs Ground: What’s the Difference?

  • Ground star anise is made by grinding the dried fruit of the star anise plant into a fine powder.
  • It has a more concentrated flavor than whole star anise and is often used in smaller amounts.
  • Ground star anise is a common ingredient in Italian and Mediterranean cuisine, where it is used as a flavoring for baked goods like pumpkin pie and gingerbread.
  • It is also added to savory dishes like pork and vegetable stews to add a sweet and savory flavor.
  • Ground star anise works well with fattier meats and vegetables, as it helps to cut through the richness and adds a layer of complexity to the dish.
  • It is a popular choice for adding to drinks like tea and coffee, as well as to medicinal blends.

The Difference

  • The main difference between whole and ground star anise is the way they are used in cooking.
  • Whole star anise is often added to dishes early on in the cooking process to allow the flavor to infuse throughout the dish.
  • Ground star anise is added later in the cooking process, as it has a more concentrated flavor and can easily overpower other flavors.
  • Whole star anise is a great choice for creating complex blends of spices, while ground star anise is better suited for adding a sweet and savory flavor to dishes.
  • Both types of star anise work well in a range of dishes and can be used in different ways to achieve great results.

Cooking with Star Anise: A Guide to Adding Unique Flavors to Your Dishes

Star anise is a versatile ingredient that can be used in a variety of dishes. When cooking with star anise, it’s important to use it in moderation as its strong flavor can easily overpower other ingredients. Here are some tips for using star anise in rice and meat dishes:

  • Simmered dishes: Star anise is commonly used in simmered dishes, such as braised meats and stews. Its unique flavor tones can add a rich and complex taste to the dish.
  • Rice dishes: Adding star anise to rice dishes, such as pilafs or biryanis, can produce a nice aroma and flavor. It pairs well with fatty meats like pork or duck.
  • Meat dishes: Star anise can be used to flavor meat dishes like beef or chicken. It can be added to marinades or rubs for a unique taste.

Using Star Anise in Desserts

Star anise is not just limited to savory dishes, it can also be used in desserts. Here are some tips for using star anise in desserts:

  • Apple pie: Adding star anise to apple pie can give it a unique twist. It pairs well with cinnamon and nutmeg.
  • Drying technique: Drying star anise and grinding it into a powder can be used as a spice in desserts. It adds a complex flavor to baked goods like cookies and cakes.
  • Soy sauce substitute: Star anise can be used as a substitute for soy sauce in desserts. It can be used to make caramel or to flavor ice cream.

Asian Recipes with Star Anise: Adding a Unique Flavor to Your Cooking

Star anise is a prominent spice in Chinese cuisine and plays an important role in creating complex and flavorful dishes. It serves as an excellent substitute for common spices like cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg, adding a sweet and spicy flavor to your food. In this section, we will explore some Asian recipes that use star anise and provide information on how to buy, store, and use this spice to create delicious dishes.

Buying and Storing Star Anise

When looking to buy star anise, it’s important to note that there are two kinds: whole and ground. Whole star anise is typically sold in pieces and can be physically inspected for quality. Ground star anise is harder to find in local stores and is commonly sold by standardized spice companies. If you want to ensure the quality of your star anise, it’s best to buy it from a local company that sells pure and fresh spices.

To properly store star anise, keep it in a dark, cool, and dry place. If stored properly, it can last up to a year.


1. Chinese Five-Spice Pork

  • Start by marinating fatty pork pieces in soy sauce and Chinese five-spice powder (which includes star anise).
  • After marinating, cook the pork in a pan until it finishes cooking.
  • Serve with vegetables and noodles.

2. Spicy Beef Noodle Soup

  • Start by making a broth with beef bones, star anise, and other spices.
  • Add sliced beef and vegetables to the broth and let it simmer until the beef is cooked.
  • Serve with noodles and a spicy sauce.

3. Braised Chicken with Star Anise

  • Start by browning chicken pieces in a pan.
  • Add sliced onions, garlic, and star anise to the pan and cook until the onions are translucent.
  • Add chicken broth and let it simmer until the chicken is cooked.
  • Serve with rice or noodles.


If you don’t have star anise, you can substitute it with anise seed, which has a similar flavor profile but lacks the complex notes of star anise.


  • When adding star anise to your dishes, be careful not to add too much as it has a strong flavor.
  • Star anise is a common spice in Western countries and can be found in a lot of modern recipes.
  • The unique flavor of star anise can benefit fatty meats and soy sauce-based dishes.

Where to Find the Best Star Anise for Your Kitchen

One of the most common places to find star anise is at your local grocery store. Most stores carry this spice in the regular spice section, and it’s usually available in both whole and ground form. Some of the most popular brands of star anise that you might find in your local grocery store include McCormick, Simply Organic, and Frontier Co-op.

Online Retailers

If you’re having a hard time finding star anise in your local stores, then you might want to consider buying it online. There are a number of online retailers that carry a wide variety of star anise brands, including Amazon, iHerb, and Thrive Market. When buying star anise online, it’s important to make sure that you’re buying from a reputable seller and that the spice is fresh.

Specialty Spice Shops

If you’re a foodie who loves to experiment with new flavors, then you might want to check out your local specialty spice shop. These stores usually carry a wide variety of spices, including star anise, and can be a great place to learn more about this essential spice. Some of the best specialty spice shops in the US include The Spice House, Penzeys Spices, and Savory Spice.

Substitutes for Star Anise

If you can’t find star anise or if you’re looking for a similar spice to use in your cooking, then there are a few substitutes that you can try. Some of the best substitutes for star anise include anise seed, fennel seed, and Chinese five-spice powder. These spices all contain a similar flavor profile to star anise and can be used in the same way in your cooking.

Key Benefits of Using Star Anise

There are a number of key benefits to using star anise in your cooking, including:

  • Rich flavor: Star anise has a complex and rich flavor that can add depth to any dish.
  • Traditional uses: Star anise has been used in traditional Chinese cooking for centuries and is an essential spice in many dishes.
  • Health benefits: Star anise contains a number of health benefits, including anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties.
  • Versatility: Star anise can be used in a wide variety of dishes, from savory to sweet.
  • Easy to use: Star anise is easy to use in your cooking and can be added whole or ground to your dishes.

Keeping Your Star Anise Fresh: Tips for Storage

When it comes to storing star anise, the container you choose can make a big difference. Keep the spice in an airtight container to prevent moisture from getting in and expedite the loss of potency. Glass jars with tight-fitting lids or resealable plastic bags work well.

Avoid Sunlight and Humidity

Star anise should be stored in a cool, dry place away from direct sunlight and humidity. Exposure to sunlight and moisture can cause the spice to lose its flavor and aroma quickly.

Label and Date the Container

Label the container with the date you bought or opened the star anise. This way, you can keep track of how long you’ve had it and when it’s time to replace it. Star anise can remain vibrantly flavored for up to two years if stored properly.

Whole vs. Ground

Whole star anise pods will remain fresh for longer than ground star anise. If you need to grind the spice, do so just before using it to preserve its flavor and aroma.

Toast and Rub

To bring out the beautiful, savory aroma of star anise, toast the pods in a dry skillet over medium heat until they begin to brown. Then, rub the pods between your palms to release the aroma before using them in your recipe.

Added Flavor

Star anise can be added to braised dishes, soups, and stews to give them a distinctive, holistic flavor. It is often used in Asian cuisine, but it can also be added to liqueurs and other beverages for a purely ornamental touch.

Star Anise Benefits, Uses and Potential Risks: The Power of This Licorice-Flavored Spice

Star anise contains a variety of bioactive compounds that can provide numerous health benefits. The most notable of these compounds is anethole, which gives star anise its distinct licorice flavor. Anethole is also found in anise seed, but star anise contains a higher concentration of this compound.

What Does Poonam, MD Say About Star Anise?

According to Poonam, MD, star anise is a powerful spice that can provide numerous health benefits. However, it’s important to consume star anise in moderation and be aware of any potential risks. Before consuming star anise, it’s always a good idea to consult with a healthcare provider, especially if you’re taking any medications.

Medically Reviewed

This article has been medically reviewed by Poonam, MD, a board-certified physician specializing in integrative and functional medicine.

Substituting Star Anise in Your Recipes

When looking for a star anise substitute, you want to find a spice that has a similar flavor profile. Star anise has a strong licorice taste, so you’ll want to look for spices that have a similar flavor. Additionally, you’ll want to find a spice that can perform the same function in your recipe. Star anise is often used to add depth and complexity to dishes, so you’ll want to find a spice that can do the same.

How to Decide Which Substitute to Use

When deciding which substitute to use, consider the following:

  • The desired flavor profile: Consider what flavor profile you’re looking for in your dish. If you want a strong licorice flavor, anise seeds or fennel seeds may be the best choice. If you want a spicier flavor, cloves or caraway seeds may be a better choice.
  • The function of star anise in the dish: Consider what star anise contributes to the dish. If it’s being used to add depth and complexity, you may want to use a mixture of spices like five-spice powder. If it’s being used to sweeten a dish, you may want to use a little sugar instead.
  • The other ingredients in the dish: Consider the other ingredients in the dish and how they will interact with the substitute. Make sure the substitute will work well with the other flavors in the dish.

Check the Flavor

Once you’ve chosen a substitute, start with a small amount and taste the dish. If the flavor is close to what you want, continue adding the substitute until you achieve the desired flavor. If the flavor is off, try a different substitute.


So there you have it- everything you need to know about star anise. It’s a great spice to have in your pantry if you enjoy Asian cuisine, and it has some great health benefits too. But don’t go overboard!

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Joost Nusselder, the founder of Bite My Bun is a content marketer, dad and loves trying out new food with Japanese food at the heart of his passion, and together with his team he's been creating in-depth blog articles since 2016 to help loyal readers with recipes and cooking tips.