The Tale of Star Anise and its Culinary Usage


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Star anise is a whole spice that goes into the preparation of curries. While the spice is linked to Persian cuisine, it is the main ingredient of the famous Thai dish, Thai Massaman Curry. This particular dish is a perfect blend of Southern Thailand and Chinese flavours with a touch of Indian spices too.

The Star Spice

Star anise and its fennel like sweet notes make a remarkable difference to any dish. Persian cuisine uses this spice in its whole form and it is called the “Ras el Hanout”, meaning head of the shop. The important spice is also used in Moroccan and Middle Eastern foods. Adding this sweet and spicy note to savory preparations is highly influenced by Arabian culture. For instance, the use of dried red petals is common in most dishes as it lends a sweet aroma.

Chakri Phool, as it is commonly known in India, star anise is a part of Indian spice box too. It is also included in Indian “garam masala”, which different regional cuisines use in meat preparations of UP and Delhi, strongly influenced by Persian cuisine. However, star anise remains one of the lesser known ingredients that is often ignored and even skipped.

The Chinese Influence – Chinese Five Spice

Star anise is a common spice in the Far East, China. The main ingredient adds distinctive flavour of the five-spice powder used in Chinese cuisine. It flavours soups and broths, tomato based sauces, and even meats such as pork. Adding star anise along with cinnamon is the key cooking formula that enhances flavours of the Eastern-Chinese cuisine. After all, star anise is native to Southern China, the biggest producer of the spice.

Star anise goes very well with tomatoes. Its flavour is quite similar to licorice, closely resembling that of basil and fennel. Adding a single pod of star anise changes the flavour of tomato-based stews and sauces with a spicy and warm undertone. It elevates the level of the dish.

Using Star Anise

Star anise can be used in curries, soups, and cakes. The spice has potent medicinal properties too. It is widely used to combat colic. Oil of star anise is also used as a diuretic that fights a backache and rheumatism. Star anise has excellent healing properties to ward off flu-like symptoms and cough. It has anti-fungal and anti-bacterial properties as well.

Star anise also has stimulant and carminative properties. It is a common flavouring ingredient used in cough mixtures, medicinal teas, and pastilles. Chinese medicine mentions star anise as a natural digestive aid that promotes health. It is an excellent medicine for female reproductive organs and a great aid for lactating mothers because it increases breast milk secretion. It has also long been used for promoting appetite, treating abdominal pain and digestive disturbances, and relieving flatulence.

In its natural form, star anise helps the body’s immune system to fight off flu and other health challenges. It contains a compound called Shikimic acid, which is used to prepare drugs for curing flu virus. Star anise also has potent sedating properties that ensure a sound sleep. Star anise oil is a natural breath freshener. 

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