Spice support: star anise and anise seed

Although both star anise and anise seed (aka aniseed) share a licorice-like flavor compounds called anethole, the two are unrelated botanically. It’s easy to confuse the two because of their similarities, but the two are used differently and possess subtle differences in flavor. 

star anise and anise seed

Star anise is the seed pod of an evergreen native to southern China, although it is now cultivated in many other countries. The pods are beautiful to behold with their eight-pointed shape that looks like a flower. Each of the points contains a hard, brown seed. Since star anise is difficult to grind, the spice is most often used whole and added to a liquid to allow its spicy, pungent flavor to infuse into the dish being made. You’ll find star anise in many Chinese, Indian, and Vietnamese dishes. It is the dominant flavor in Chinese five-spice powder. 

Anise seed, on the other hand, is native to the Middle East and is one of the world’s oldest spices. It is botanically related to caraway, cumin, and fennel. Anise seed is often used in baked goods and breads in Scandinavian cooking, although it is equally at home in savory dishes. The licorice flavor of anise seed is more subtle than that of star anise, and it pairs especially well with fish, seafood, and poultry. Anise seed is the base for several licorice-flavored liqueurs incuding ouzo, pastis, sambuca, and anisette. 

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