An ancient species, known as far back as 100BC, Chinese star anise is one of the most beautiful and fragrant spices in the world. It is the dried fruit of a delicate evergreen tree, related to the Magnolia family, indigenous to the southeastern part of China and Vietnam which has aromatic leaves and fragrant flower clusters. The “star” in it’s common name comes from the flat star-like fruits with 8-12 rays that each contain one light brown seed and the “anise” comes from the fact that even though they are not botanically related, they have the sweet licorice flavor and aroma of anise. Star anise fruits, produced only after the trees are 15 years old, are harvested in autumn before maturity and left to ripen on racks in the sun where they turn their characteristic rust color.
Star anise is nearly always used in very small quantities and may be used whole, broken or ground. Whole star anise is added to the cooking liquid in savory dishes, especially beef, pork and poultry. Also excellent in soups, cabbage dishes and with fish stews, it can be removed before eating and used as a garnish. The Chinese like to suck on a point of the star to ensure fresh breath! Broken star anise pieces are used in pickling, stir fry and to flavor beverages including Chai tea. The ground seeds are best known as a component of five-spice powder which is a combination of equal parts cinnamon, cloves, fennel seed, star anise and Szechuan peppercorns. It is used primarily to flavor marinates and season meats, but also may be used in barbeque sauce as well as cookies. Ground, it may also be a component of curry and garam masala blends.
The dried fruits of star anise are the source of oil of star anise, a volatile, aromatic oil used as a flavoring for cough medicines, candies and liqueurs as well as a fragrance for soaps, toothpaste, detergents, cosmetics and perfumes. In the East, star anise is used to relieve colic and rheumatism and is known for its diuretic, carminative and digestive properties, including a cure for flatulence! The most unique use, however, is to bait your mousetraps - apparently it is attractive to rodents and a dusting may make your traps more effective.
Do not confuse Chinese star anise
with Japanese star anise, Illicium lanceolatum,
a poisonous plant used as an agricultural pesticide
Designate a grinder for spices only
to provide fresh ground spices for cooking
STAR ANISE MANDARIN ORANGES
Drain the liquid from a can of mandarin oranges into a small saucepan, heat to simmer, add 2 star anise clusters, simmer 1 minute longer, and pour over the mandarin orange sections in a covered glass container. Cover and refrigerate overnight. Serve as dessert with almond cookies or fortune cookies.
STAR ANISE BREAD PUDDING
6 star anise
2Tbs chopped crystallized ginger
4 beaten eggs
12 slices cinnamon-raisin bread cut into 1” pieces
Combine milk and anise, heat but do not boil, cover and steep 20 mins. then strain. Add sugar, ginger, cinnamon and eggs with whisk and then stir in bread. Let stand 10 mins, then pour into greased 8” square baking dish and sprinkle with 1Tbs sugar. Bake at 350 degrees for 35 mins or until knife comes out clean. Serve with ice cream.
“And God said, "See, I have given you every herb
that yields seed which is on the face of all the earth,
and every tree whose fruit yields seed;
to you it shall be for food.”