by Jane Lawson
also known as Chinese anise
Arguably the spice world's most beautiful member, star anise takes the form of an eightpointed star, with each spoke containing an ellipselike compartment holding a single seed.
Actually the fruit of a tree native to Southern China, star anise is harvested when the fruit is unripe and then dried. Their fragile make-up means that it tends to break during handling—however, although this is aesthetically not as appealing, it doesn't compromise the flavor.
It is a major ingredient in many of China's braised dishes, as well as master stocks, and is one of the essential spices in five-spice (page 394 of the book). It is also integral to Vietnam's classic beef noodle soup, pho.
Star anise has a warm, woody, aniseed flavor, and is, somewhat surprisingly, 13 times sweeter than sugar. So, although pairing beautifully with many Asian meat dishes, it is also finding an identity in contemporary cooking in sweet dishes, such as fruit and custard desserts.
Star Anise recipes and page numbers in the book:
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This page created May 2008
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