Spice of the Month: Star Anise Adds Versatile Flavor to Many Foods

Star anise is used in many Asian dishes, such as the marinade

According to ancient tradition, star anise will prevent bad dreams and ward off the evil eye … oh, and it tastes pretty good, too.

This versatile spice is found mostly in traditional Chinese dishes that require marinating or slow cooking meats. It’s also a popular ingredient in Chinese stews and soups and is one of the ingredients in the Chinese Five Spices mixture, prevalent in most Chinese cooking.

“You need to release the flavor slowly: too fast, and it’s hard to control,” said Tuyen Chung, one of the owners of the Ginger Cafe in Gilroy.

In Western cultures, star anise is often used in fruit compotes and jams, baked goods and in liquors such as anisette and Pernod.

Star anise smells and tastes like licorice, and has been used for thousands of years as a remedy for colic, rheumatism and to aid digestion. It’s used in teas and chewed by itself. Star anise comes from a small tree that is a member of the magnolia family, and is grown almost exclusively in southern China. As the name suggests, the spice is star-shaped with an average of eight points. Most stars have a radius just slightly bigger than a quarter.

While Chinese star anise is edible and delicious, a similar spice called Japanese star anise is not. In fact, the FDA put out an advisory in 2003 about Japanese star anise in foods because it was linked with serious illnesses, including seizures and vomiting. Kimberly Rawlings, an FDA spokeswoman, said foods containing the spice are stopped at the U.S. border and that it “should not be added to any food items.” Japanese star anise is still legally sold as an incense, though.

Star Anise Blackberries with Lemon Sorbet

3/4 cup water

1/4 cup sugar

2 star anise

1 tsp. lemon juice

1 pint blackberries

1 pint lemon sorbet

8 cookies of your choice

Step 1: In a small saucepan placed over moderate heat, combine water, sugar, star anise and lemon juice.

Step 2: Stir and cook until sugar dissolves and water comes to a bubble.

Step 3: Add blackberries and cook 30 seconds.

Step 4: Remove pan from heat and let stand one or two minutes, stirring occasionally.

Step 5: Remove star anise.

Step 6: Scoop lemon sorbet into four small dessert cups.

Step 7: Top lemon sorbet with star anise and blackberries and garnish desserts with two cookies.

Star Anise Carrot Soup

32 ounces fresh carrot juice

2 pieces star anise

1 cup canola oil

Salt and white pepper to taste

Step 1: In a stainless steel casserole dish, reduce carrot juice with star anise until all of the water is evaporated. There will be carrot left over.

Step 2: Remove the star anise and scrape these leftovers into a blender.

Step 3: Blend at high speed while slowly adding oil to emulsify.

Step 4: Season to taste. Store at room temperature.

Dried Apricot Chutney with Star Anise

Makes about 2 cups

1/4 cup any vinegar

1/2 cup water

1/4 cup sugar, honey, or other sweetener


1/4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper

1 small dried hot red chili, or to taste

3 star anise

1 Tbs. peeled and minced fresh ginger or 2 tsp. ground ginger

1/2 cup minced onion

20 dried apricots, cut into 4 or 8 pieces each

Step 1: Combine all ingredients except the apricots in a small saucepan and turn the heat to medium.

Step 2: Bring to a boil, stirring occasionally, then lower the heat and cook for five minutes.

Step 3: Add the apricots and continue to cook until all but a tiny bit of the liquid is gone. If the mixture is not “jammy,” or the apricots not quite tender, add a little more water and cook some more.

Step 4: Taste and adjust seasoning as necessary; you may add more of anything you like. Use within a few days and serve hot, warm, or at room temperature.

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