Star anise derives its name from its star shape appearance and similar taste of licorice. It is the fruit of a Chinese bush, Illicium verum that is a member of the Magnolia family and is grown in southwestern China and Japan.
Anise seed or aniseed is a flowering plant, pimpinella anisum, that is native to the eastern Mediterranean region and southwest Asia. Both have similar flavor to fennel and licorice but are not botanically related.
Star anise is a super spice that characterizes many eastern Chinese dishes. The fine licorice flavor plays a starring role in Chinese and Japanese slow cooked dishes and is one of the star ingredients in the traditional five-spice powder of Chinese cooking.
The essential oil of star anise is also similar to the anise seed and both can be substituted for each other for culinary purposes.The only difference is that the flavor of licorice in star anise is slightly stronger. Star anise shines in slow cooked or simmered dishes, and is usually added whole then discarded before serving. Sometimes a recipe might call for ground star anise as in the case of stir-fry dishes.
Star Anise is excellent with sweet potatoes or pumpkin dishes and works well with poultry and seafood. You will find the flavor of star anise in traditional Vietnamese dishes such as Pho soup. It is also widely used as a major component in many eastern Indian stews and curries. Sometimes you might detect the flavor of star anise in certain western recipes replacing regular anise.
When you buy star anise, buy them whole and store them in a sealed container in a cool dark place. Use them whole and then discard them after the food is cooked.
Regular anise is anything but ordinary. The tiny crescent-shaped anise seed has a lovely sweetness with hints of licorice flavor. It is often ground into a powder that is used for baking bread and for making curries. You may have tasted anise in the signature Italian biscotti as well as in other famous Italian pastries.
These flavorful tiny seeds have wide ranging culinary applications. For savory dishes, the sweetness of anise balances out the flavor in acidic tomato base sauces. In Europe, it is used in many popular confections. The French like flavoring certain carrot dishes with anise, and the Danes and Scandinavians frequently use it for making breads and pastries. It also complements cinnamon and bay leaves as an added spice.
You can buy anise seed whole or in ground form, but if you want the best flavor buy the whole seeds then grind them in a coffee grind or mortar and pestle. Both, star anise and anise seed will add a delightful sweet-licorice flavor to your recipe.
In Morocco, anise seed cookies are served for an afternoon snack along with mint tea. I'd like to leave you with one of our family's favorite Moroccan cookie recipes:
Moroccan Anise Seed Cookies - click link