Star Anise (Illicium verum)

Star anise is an unusual star-shaped fruit used as a spice, mostly in Asian cooking. Its flavor is similar to anise or aniseed, a popular spice used in Western cooking.

The English name derives from the spice, anise, as the flavor tastes similar and by adding the word, “star” in front, since it looks like a star and to differentiate between the two spices.

The Mandarin name, bajiao, literally means, “eight horns” as it is usually comes with eight pointed sections. There is one seed in every section. It is native to China and is now grown on a large commercial scale in China, Indo-China, India and Japan.

The fruits are always picked before it is ripe and sun dried. It is then sold either in whole, dried hard form or in powder and never as fresh fruit.

It is widely used in Chinese and Indian cuisines. You can throw the whole dried star anise, including the seeds, into whatever you are cooking. Excellent in used with any types of meat, curries, soups and herbal tea. Just don’t use too many of them as the flavor is pungent, bitter-sweet, intense and much stronger than aniseed.

Usually, the cooked star anises are not eaten as the flavor is already absorbed in the food but you may chew it if you like.

Take note that you do not mistake another species, Japanese star anise, from this as both look similar. Those are not edible as it is highly toxic. It is used as incense instead, mostly in Japan.