Star Anise- Spice up your dishes with this popular Chinese Spice

True to its name, star anise is a star shaped fruit of an oriental evergreen tree that is grown predominantly in south-western China and Japan. The spice is also planted in Laos and in Jamaica. The seed is of an aniseed flavour which is derived from an essential oil of the spice known as anethole. Star anise is extensively used by the Chinese in the making of several dishes. It is also used as one of the five spices in the Chinese five-spice powder. Native to China it has been used there as a medicine apart from being used as a culinary ingredient. Star anise is also known by the name of Illicium verum and belongs to the plant family Illiciaceae. This plant family has a close association with the magnolia family. It is of one inch high, has eight segments and is of a dark brown rust color. It is basically an eight horned or eight cornered spice. In China it is grown in the four provinces and is harvested between the month of March and May.

The main constituents of star anise are 5 to 8% essential oil, which is dominated by 85 to 90% anethole. Other components comprises of phellandrene, terpineol, safrole and cineol. It has an aroma similar to that of anise or licorice.

You should be able to distinguish between the Chinese star anise and the Japanese star anise. The Japanese star anise cannot be eaten due to its poisonous substance. It is the Chinese star anise that is widely used for an array of purposes.

Although it has its origin in China it is also used in India too though to a limited extent. In northern India it is known by the name of badian khatai. It renders strong flavor to most of the Indian dishes.

Buying tips
While buying star anise it is preferable to buy them in whole pieces. However, it is also available in powder form. As a whole piece it last for years in its star shape. It is sold in packages in most of the Asian supermarkets.

Culinary usage
Star anise is aromatic; sweet flavored, and has a pleasant odor. It plays a key role in many of the slowed cooked dishes of the Eastern Chinese cuisine. In China it is widely used on roast meat like duck and many other Chinese cuisines. It blends well with beef, pork, lamb or poultry. Apart from its use in China, it is used in several Vietnam’s signature dishes, Indonesian cuisine and in Indian stews and curries. It is one of the major ingredients of ‘pho’ which is a Vietnamese noodle soup. It is used in India for flavouring curries, spirits and confectionaries and for pickling. In India it is a major component of garam masala. It is used as a spice in the preparation of Biryani here and is also used as an important ingredient in the making of masala chai. They are used in many Asian soups and marinades. It is also widely used in Malay cooking. In the production of sambuca, pastis and certain types of absinthe it is a must. It is used in the liquor production of Galliano and is a common ingredient in French liqueur Pernod.

At home star anise needs to be stored in air tight container and kept in a cool dark place. If properly stored, it will last for several months. However, do not use it once the flavour of the star anise fades.

Medicinal values
Star anise has the following medicinal values:

  • It is used as a digestive aid
  • It is used in tea as rheumatism remedy.
  • It is used in relieving cold-stagnation.
  • Stimulant star anise can be used to reduce chronic pain, urinary infections and respiratory infections.
  • Recent studies revealed its wide pharmacological actions like antimicrobial, insecticidal, analgesic, antioxidant and convulsive activities.
  • It is used as a major ingredient in the antiflu drug-Tamiflu and is used widely in treating swine flu.
  • It is also known to increase vitality and strength in the human system.
  • It is also used externally for various skin diseases.
  • The oil of the star anise can be rubbed on the soles of the feet, or breathed in as aromatherapeutic form.
  • It is used for manufacturing branded medicines in China.

Where to buy the spice in US
In US you will find star anise in most of the Indian and Chinese grocery shops there. There are various spice merchants who sells them the like of which includes The Spice House and Penzeys. They sell it for $4 an ounce. If the shops are not within your easy reach you can also purchase star anise from some of the online stores that sells them.

Nutritional and Dietary information
As far as the nutritional value of star anise per 100g serving is concerned it contains approximately 337 calories, 16g of fat, 16mg of sodium, 50g of carbohydrate, 15g of dietary fiber and 18g of protein. The star anise contains no cholesterol and per 100g serving is extremely rich in iron, has a rich source of calcium and has 35% of your daily recommended intake of vitamin C.

As a spice it has carved out a niche for itself over the last few years in the use for various culinary and medicinal purposes. Due to its unique flavour and nutritional value it is now being used widely in modern cooking. Today, it has come to play some role even in Persian and Pakistani cuisine.

Nutrition Facts
Servings Size 100gm
Calories 337 Kcal
Sodium 1%
Potassium 31%
Total Carbohydrate 38%
Dietary Fiber 38%
Protein 31%
Vitamin A 10.5%
Vitamin C 35%
Calcium 65%
Iron 462%
* The Percent Daily Values are based on a 2,000 calorie diet, so your values may change depending on your calorie needs. The values here may not be 100% accurate because it has not been professionally evaluated nor have they been evaluated by the U.S. FDA.



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  2. Van Nelson says:

    “You should be able to distinguish between the Chinese star anise and the Japanese star anise..”

    I’d like to point out that it is extremely difficult to tell between the two without chemical analysis. The only big difference between Chinese star anise and Japanese star anise is the latter contains anisatin, shikimin, and sikimitoxin – these are the inflammatories responsible for making the Japanese star anise poisonous.

    The only physical indicator that you may have Japanese rather than Chinese: The Japanese fruit is said to produce a slightly less pungent aroma than the Chinese, and, is typically a bit smaller in size.

    In its processed form (what you’ve got in your pantry), however, it is impossible to tell which is which.

    Reputable companies with quality assurance programs in place (i.e. able to conduct chemical analysis) market safe star anise… unless you’re out gathering and drying your own, there’s really no reason for you to be “able to distinguish between the Chinese star anise and the Japanese star anise”.

  3. Yi Hyun Jin says:

    In the South Korean drama series “Conspiracy In Th Court” a 17th century historical drama depicting the reign of King Jeongjo the Japanese star anise was not able to be distinguished from the Chinese star anise. One being a digestive aid and the other a highly lethal poison.

    This follow-up is simply to point out the fact that it is extremely difficult to tell between the two without chemical analysis.

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