Star Anise

Dried Star anise
Maurice Alexandre F.P./Moment/Getty Images


Star anise comes by its name honestly, with its star shape and a licorice taste similar to regular anise, only stronger. Star anise is the seed pod of an evergreen tree (Illicium Verum) grown in southwestern China and Japan. It is about one inch high with eight segments and a dark brown rust color. Like regular anise, star anise gets its distinctive licorice taste from a chemical compound called anethol.

However the two are not related botanically - star anise is a member of the Magnolia family.

Using Star Anise in Cooking

Star anise plays a key role in the slow cooked dishes that characterize Eastern Chinese cuisine. Its licorice flavor enhances red cooked dishes, as well as eggs simmered in black tea. Star anise is one of the spices in five-spice powder.

Outside of China, star anise is featured in several of Vietnam's signature dishes, such as Pho Bo soup. It is also the secret ingredient in many Indian stews and curries. Star anise can replace regular anise in western recipes.

Medical Uses of Star Anise

In traditional Chinese medicine, star anise is prescribed as a digestive aid and to help cure colic in babies. More recently, Shikimic Acid, extracted from star anise, is one of the chief ingredients in the antiviral Tamiflu drug used to fight avian influenza.

Purchasing, Storage, and Preparation

Star anise is available in packages in Asian supermarkets.

When purchasing star anise, look for whole pieces that aren’t broken. At home, store star anise in a sealed container in a cool dark place. Properly stored, star anise will last for several months. Discard once the flavor fades.

In slow cooked or simmered dishes, star anise is usually added whole (not broken into pieces) and discarded before serving.

Occasionally, you may find stir-fry recipes calling for ground star anise.

Written by Rhonda Parkinson


Also Known As: Chinese anise

Alternate Spellings: Chinese Name
Cantonese - bat gok
Mandarin – ba jiao

Examples: Recipes using Star Anise
Basic Five-Spice Powder
Mango Chicken Stir-fry
Spicy Soy Sauce Chicken (Red Cooked Chicken)
Cold Spiced Beef Appetizer
Tea Eggs
Wok Red-Cooked Chicken Wings

Return to the Glossary of Chinese Ingredients and Cooking Terms