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How to Use Anise Seed in Cooking

Written by MasterClass

Last updated: Dec 5, 2019 • 5 min read

Anise has been used for centuries to add a distinctive flavor to liqueurs and baked goods, from copper-distilled Greek ouzo to twice-baked Italian biscotti. Despite its rich history, it is still finding ways to reinvent itself, contributing a fresh take on timeworn cocktails and adding a surprising depth and warmth to meat and seafood.



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The History and Origins of Anise

Anise is native to the Middle East and is one of the oldest known spices. Its culinary roots can be traced back to Ancient Rome, where the naturalist and author Pliny wrote of it nearly two thousand years ago, “Be it green or dried it’s wanted for all conserves and flavorings.” Anise was so valuable that is was one of the spices used by the Romans to pay taxes, and in 1305 King Edward I levied an import tax on it. In the early history of the United States, colonizers of Virginia were each required to plant six anise seeds.

What Is Anise?

Anise or aniseed, Latin name Pimpinella anisum, is a flowering annual herb in the parsley family. The plant reaches about 18 inches high and produces feathery foliage and white blooms. After flowering, the fruits ripen for about two months before the whole plant is harvested, dried, and threshed to separate out the fruits from the foliage. Anise is a schizocarp, meaning that when the fruits are mature, they spit into single-seeded parts. Each anise seed is one half of the anise fruit. The seeds are the part of the anise plant most often used for culinary purposes, but the stems and leaves can also be eaten raw or cooked.

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Anise Flavor Profile and Characteristics

Anise seeds range in color from pale brown to greenish-gray. The seeds are shaped like small, ridged crescents and often have a bit of the stem still attached. Although anise seeds look a lot like fennel seeds, they are significantly smaller. Anise is known for its natural sweetness and unmistakable licorice flavor.

Anise has a similar aroma and taste profile to licorice root, fennel, star anise, and caraway. This is because all of these, while originating from different plants, contain the same organic compound called anethole, giving them their distinctively sweet, aromatic flavor. While anethole is only slightly soluble in water, it is highly soluble in ethanol. This is why some anise-flavored liqueurs become opaque when they are mixed with water, a phenomenon called the ouzo effect.

3 Culinary Uses for Anise

Although anise takes the center stage in many pastries and liqueurs, it is also well-suited, when applied with a light hand, to savory dishes. It pairs particularly well with seafood, and is sometimes used in Italian sausages and Indian curries.

  1. Baked goods. Anise is commonly used in baked goods like Italian biscotti and pizzelles, German springerle, and pfeffernüss.
  2. Alcoholic beverages. Anise is also used to flavor liqueurs from around the world, such as absinthe, anisette, pastis, sambuca, Pernod, arak, raki, and ouzo.
  3. Natural flavoring. Anise is sometimes used as one of the flavorings in root beer.

Anise tea is thought to aid in digestion, relieve stomach cramps, and stimulate the appetite. Anise is carminative, naturally expelling gases from the stomach and intestine. The toasted seeds are sometimes chewed after a meal in India and Afghanistan to freshen breath. Anise seed is often used in licorice-flavored candies like black jelly beans and is added to some medicines to cover up the unpleasant taste of other drugs.


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Where to Buy Anise

Anise seeds can be found whole or ground in the spice section of the supermarket. Buy from markets with a high turnover to maximize freshness. Ground anise should have a warm brown color. Anise seeds are best bought whole rather than ground since the spice quickly loses its fragrance and flavor once ground. Anise oil is steam distilled from anise seeds and can be found at some specialty markets. It can be used as an essential oil or as a flavoring.

How to Cook With Anise

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Because of its potency, anise should be used sparingly. It pairs well with seafood, meat, fruit, and chocolate. Anise blends well with other spices and herbs like caraway, clove, mace, pink pepperberries, and tarragon. Whole anise seeds work well in blends like Egyptian dukkah or Indian garam masala because when you chew them the seeds release a new layer of complexity onto the dish. The seeds can be lightly toasted in a dry skillet to bring out their flavor; toasting will also help make whole seeds easier to grind. Although the leaves and stems may be used in soups and salads, anise seeds, anise extract, and anise oil are by far the ingredients most frequently called for in recipes since they are the most readily available.

How to Store Anise

Anise seeds should not be subjected to extreme heat or cold and should be stored away from light. The spice should be kept in a sealed, airtight container to keep out humidity and maintain freshness. Anise seed should be bought in small quantities and replenished often to ensure peak flavor.

Can You Substitute Anise?

The best substitute for anise is star anise. One star anise pod is equivalent to half a teaspoon of ground anise seeds. If you don’t have star anise on hand, fennel seeds, although a little woodier and less sweet than anise, are an acceptable substitute. Caraway seeds can be used in place of anise seeds but are better suited for savory dishes.

What Is the Difference Between Anise and Star Anise?

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Despite their similar names and some overlap in flavor, anise and star anise are unrelated since they come from completely different plant families. Star anise is the flower-shaped seed pod of an evergreen shrub in the magnolia family. Star anise is more pungent and intense than anise seed and is used frequently in Chinese cooking. Star anise is an ingredient in Chinese five-spice.

What Is the Difference Between Anise and Fennel?

Fennel is a bulb with dill-like leaves. Fennel is sometimes called “sweet anise.” Anise and fennel are different species from the same plant family. Fennel has a sweeter, more delicate flavor than anise. The fennel bulb is used as a vegetable, the leaves as an herb, and the seeds as a seasoning.

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