Anise & Star Anise: “Stirreth” up some culinary fun! Why these alluring spices are such holiday stars

by Denise Reynolds, Enchantress of Spices at HAALo

Anise and star anise are unrelated species though they share a high concentration of the phytoestrogen anethole, also found in fennel, chervil, and licorice.

Anethole, found to be 13 times sweeter than sugar according to Ashurst’s Food Flavorings, is responsible for the delightful sweetness these plants bring to the palate.

While only mildly soluble in water, anethole is highly soluble in alcohol, thus the use of both of these spices in traditional liquors from many counties including anisette, pernod, and pastis from France; anis, chinchon, and ojen from Spain; kasra from Libya; arak from Lebanon; raki from Turkey; ouzo and mistral from Greece; and sambuca and anesone from Italy, among dozens of others.

Why list SO MANY variations? I think it reveals a secret that many herbalists already know – it is a cultural pastime in many of these countries known for their culinary delights and enjoyment of food to serve these liquors (watered down) before a meal and undiluted after a meal.

What do they know? If there is one over-arching medicinal theme for both anise and star anise, it is to aid digestion and calm digestive disturbance.

This eloquent and colorful passage from, the Great Herbal, by John Gerard in the year 1597, outlines some of the traditional uses for anise seed: “The seed wasteth and consumeth winde, and is good against belchings and upbraidings of the stomacke, alaieth gripings of the belly, provoketh urine gently, maketh abundance of milke, and stirreth up bodily lust…”

So, this holiday season, amidst the abundance of rich foods, consider using these spices to help with digestion and “stirreth” up a little fun!



Anise is a flowering plant native to Mediterranean countries and Southwest Asia and is related to carrot, caraway, cumin, dill, fennel, and cilantro. First cultivated by the ancient Egyptians, it wasn’t until the fourteenth century that it was used in Europe.

It is aromatic and sweet, smelling mildly of licorice and innocence. There is something so child-like about its scent and a longing to make the in-breath last forever; like those days when I couldn’t get enough of the scent of my newborn’s soft head.

Many culinary references refer to adding anise early in the cooking process, however, I find that its delicate complexity tends to get washed out with excessive cooking. I like to add it near the end to keep more of its character.

Easy ways to use it are to add the seed to oatmeal, sauté lightly in butter and pour over steamed carrots or asparagus, add to a salad that includes citrus flavors, or include in puréed soups.

It is well known for its use in cookies from several European countries which you can Google to find a plethora of recipes. Pizzelles are one of my favorites!  As a child, I would stay up late with my aunt Shirley to make anise flavored pizzelles while her three boys and my brother were asleep.


Star Anise

The pod of a small evergreen tree, Star Anise is native to Vietnam and China, and has been used medicinally and as a spice for over 3000 years.

It is a powerhouse of licorice flavor and is a major ingredient in the Vietnamese soup phở , the beautiful Chinese Marbled eggs, and in Chinese Five-Spice powder and Garam Masala, the finishing spice blends used in China and India, respectively.

Much cheaper to produce than Anise oil, it has largely replaced production of Anise oil by 95%. Compared with Anise seed, the flavor is more intense and spicy with echoes of clove, allspice, pepper, and bitter orange. Its flavor holds up to extended cooking times and makes a great addition to beef and lamb stews and pairs well with tomato-based sauces or tomato anything.

It is used in sweet foods though is most often used in savory cooking. Throw in a few whole pods or, using a coffee grinder, grind up a small amount at a time to keep the powder on hand.

Below are some great anise and star anise recipes to try, including one that showcases the beautiful shape of Star Anise with the cross section star pattern of persimmon. Links provided for easy access to all the recipe details and photos.


Chinese Marbled Tea Eggs By Jaden at The Steamy Kitchen


6 eggs
3/4 cup soy sauce
2 star anise
2 tablespoons black tea (or 2 tea bags)
1 cinnamon stick
1 teaspoon sugar
1 tablespoon Sichuan peppercorn (optional)
2 strips dried tangerine or mandarin orange peel (optional)

Directions: Gently place the eggs in a medium pot and fill with water to cover the eggs by 1-inch. Bring the pot to a boil, lower the heat and let simmer for 3 minutes. Remove the eggs (leaving the water in the pot) and let cool under running cool water. Using the back of the teaspoon, gently tap the eggshell to crack the shell all over. The more you tap, the more intricate the design. Do this with a delicate hand to keep the shell intact. To the same pot with the boiling water, return the eggs and add in the remaining ingredients. Bring the mixture to a boil and immediately turn the heat to low. Simmer for 40 minutes, cover with lid and let eggs steep for a few hours to overnight. The longer you steep, the more flavorful and deeply marbled the tea eggs will be. I steep for 5 hours. Mom likes to steep overnight.


Port-braised Short Ribs with Ginger and Star Anise from Sunset Magazine


4 pounds beef short ribs,
cut through bone into 2 1/2 to 3 “ pieces
To taste, salt and pepper
1 cup diced onion
1 cup diced carrots
2 tablespoons minced candied ginger
1 teaspoon black peppercorns
2 whole star anise or 1/2 teaspoon anise seeds
1 cinnamon stick (1 1/2 to 2 inches long)
1 tablespoon dried rosemary
3 cups beef broth, skimmed of fat
1 cup tangerine or orange juice
3/4 cup ruby port
1 tangerine or orange, rinsed and thinly sliced crosswise

Directions:  Rinse ribs and pat dry; trim off and discard excess fat. Sprinkle ribs lightly all over with salt and pepper, and place in a single layer, bones down, in a 12x17 inch roasting pan.

Bake in a 450° regular, or convection, oven until meat is beginning to brown, 15 to 20 minutes.

With tongs, turn ribs. Add onion, carrots, celery, and ginger to pan around ribs. Then, mix to coat with fat in pan, and spread level. Bake until ribs are well browned and vegetables are beginning to brown, 15 to 20 minutes longer. Meanwhile, wrap peppercorns, star anise, cinnamon stick, and rosemary in a double layer of cheesecloth, 10 inches square; tie closed with heavy cotton string. To pan, add broth, tangerine juice, port, and spice bundle. Stir gently to mix and scrape browned bits free from bottom. Cover pan tightly with foil.

Bake in a 325° regular, or convection, oven until meat is very tender when pierced, 2-2 1/2 hours. Uncover pan and discard spice bundle. With tongs, transfer ribs to a rimmed platter; cover and keep warm in a 200° oven.

Skim and discard fat from pan juices. Boil over high heat, stirring often, until reduced to 2 1/2 cups, about 10 minutes. Add tangerine slices and cook just until heated through, about 1 minute. Pour sauce over ribs on platter. Garnish with rosemary. Add salt and pepper to taste.


Rice With Anise Seed, Nuts and Raisins by Starwest Botanical


2 cups white basmati rice
4 cups water
2 tablespoons butter
1 1/2 cups finely chopped onion
2-3 minced garlic cloves
1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger or
1 teaspoon dried ginger
1 to 2 teaspoons anise seed, to taste
1 teaspoon salt, to taste
1 cup raisins
1 teaspoon grated orange rind
1 1/2 cups chopped nuts
(almonds, cashews, walnuts, or pecans, lightly toasted)
Directions: Place rice and water in a pot with a tight-fitting lid. Bring to a boil, then cover, and simmer undisturbed over a low heat until tender, approximately 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, heat the butter in a medium-sized skillet. Add the onion, garlic, ginger, anise seed and salt. Sauté over low heat for about 10 to 12 minutes, or until the onion is very soft. Remove from heat.

When the rice is completely cooked, transfer to a serving bowl, and fluff gently with a fork. Stir in the sautéed mixture, along with the raisins and orange rind. Sprinkle the nuts over the top and serve.


Roasted Asparagus with Anise Seed


1 pound fresh asparagus, preferably thick spears
1 tablespoon olive oil (or use an olive oil mister)
1/2 teaspoon anise seed, ground in a mortar & pestle or in a coffee grinder
Salt & pepper to taste (go light on the salt, it can overpower the anise)

Directions: Preheat oven to 450F.

Wash the asparagus, snap off the woody ends. Toss with oil, anise seed and salt and pepper. Arrange on a baking sheet, with space between, and roast for about 10 minutes, turning once.


Anise and Fennel Seed Carrot Soup with Zucchini Spaghetti


8 oz of peeled carrots
1 tsp fennel seeds
1 tsp anise seeds
2.1 cup / 1 pt light, not too salty stock
Extra virgin olive oil

Directions: Slice the carrots and braise them with the anise and fennel seeds for 3-4 minutes. Add stock and simmer for 15 minutes. Use a lemon zester like the one on the top photo to cut out spaghetti strands out of the zucchini. Put them aside. Mix the soup with a hand blender or whatever you like to use until smooth. Heat up the soup, put them into the bowls you are serving it in and add the zucchini spaghetti.

Persimmon Upside-Down Cake with Star Anise

Stars and Oranges in Snowy Ice

Denise-Reynolds-HAALo-sqDenise Reynolds, The Enchantress of Spices, is a culinary sensualist and founder of The Sensual Feast. She consults and teaches cooking workshops offering the opportunity to delight in the preparation, flavor, and deep nourishment of food as a gateway to pleasure and sensuality.

Learn to experience the kitchen as sacred space and how, as we play in the kitchen, we have the opportunity to inspire our lives again and again with every meal.

Check out her Facebook page The Sensual Feast for event details and the following video for a little taste of her classes.


«  Previous Post:   | 
Next Post:  »


  1. Thanks for the mention Kathy! Great article on stirring up the spices. Wishing you a super 2015!


  1. […] can read more at: hi guys hereis your vitality news post of the day! by Denise Reynolds, Enchantress of Spices at […]