What is star anise and how to use it in cooking?

Star anise can be used whole or ground in sweet and savoury dishes. Picture: Pexels/Mareefe

Star anise can be used whole or ground in sweet and savoury dishes. Picture: Pexels/Mareefe

Published Feb 15, 2024

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Star anise may just be the most unique and fun-looking spice in the pantry, but it is more than just good looks.

Like many popular spices, star anise is native to the Eastern hemisphere. Spiceography.com states that star anise was discovered and developed in south-east China and, thus, is an extremely popular spice in traditional Chinese cuisine.

The spice was not only considered delicious but if you were lucky enough to find an eight-point star, the ancient Chinese thought it imparted good fortune.

Food History.com says that star anise also played an important role in Japanese culture. Star anise was traditionally used in Japanese medicine for more than 3 000 years to soothe the liver and kidneys and relieve pain.

Those who practised traditional Japanese medicine would burn incense filled with star anise and mix it into their sweet and savoury snacks and spirits, much like we still do.

Star anise can be used whole or ground and in sweet and savoury dishes. Picture: Pexels/Olia Danilevich

Let us embark on this flavourful journey and unlock the secrets of using star anise in cooking.

With a unique flavour unlike most other herbs and spices, star anise can add a wonderful taste and fragrant smell to your dish.

Star anise can be used whole or ground in sweet and savoury dishes. Use this fragrant spice to infuse flavour into tea, mulled wine, soup broth and even pasta sauce.

The ground version can be used in baked goods and is an ingredient in five-spice powder (a spice mixture of five or more spices used predominantly in almost all branches of Chinese cuisine).

In savoury dishes, it is often used in braised meats and stews, where it infuses the dish with its rich, aromatic notes.

It pairs exceptionally well with beef, pork, and duck, adding depth and complexity to the flavours. You can also find star anise in marinades and rubs for grilled or roasted meats, imparting a delightful twist to your favourite cuts.

When it comes to sweet treats, star anise shines in desserts and baked goods. It adds a unique and exotic flavour to dishes like poached fruits, custards, and even chocolate-based desserts.

You can also use it to infuse syrups, sauces, and infusions for cocktails, creating intriguing and flavourful beverages.

Star anise can be used whole or ground and in sweet and savoury dishes. Picture: Vicky Tran

Whether you are exploring the world of savoury dishes or indulging in sweet delights, incorporating star anise into your recipes will undoubtedly elevate the taste and leave a lasting impression on your palate.

Its versatility makes it a must-have spice in any well-stocked kitchen.

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