What Does Star Anise Taste Like? [And Ways To Cook With It]

Star anise is one of the deepest and most complex spices that is readily available at supermarkets. The spice has an incredible range of notes and flavors, which can be drawn out and intensified depending on how you cook or work with the spice.

Not only does it smell wonderful, but star anise is a rich, warm spice that lends itself to lots of different dishes and cooking styles. Star anise tastes licorice-like and slightly sweet. It’s often compared closely to anise seed even though there’s no relation.

You can use star anise lots of different ways. It works well as part of sweet and savory food, drinks, baked goods, and sauces. The spice is potent, so you don’t need to use very much of it, either.

Some find that star anise is too powerful- but I think that’s only the case if you go overboard. Learn to work with the spice, and you may be amazed by how many dimensions it has.

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Star Anise’s Taste and Texture

Star anise is used widely in Chinese cuisine, where it is one of the five spices that go into five spice mix. In fact, star anise is actually the dried fruit of a tree that is native to China.

Most star anise is grown in China for this reason. Both the seeds and star carry the distinctive star anise flavor, which is quite sweet and somewhat reminiscent of licorice.

In Chinese cuisine, star anise is often used in savory dishes, despite its sweet taste. It is especially often used with meats and gives these dishes a sweet and somewhat peppery flavor.

This makes star anise a great ingredient to use if you want to try making Chinese cuisine with meat substitutes. You can give your meals an authentic boost with this fantastic ingredient.

Star anise is usually used whole or ground. Whole star anise is generally added to soups or stews and cooked alongside the other ingredients. If you use star anise this way, you definitely want to remove it before you serve the dish- the star itself is quite overpowering and much too strong to eat whole.

As a powder, ground star anise does not generally have a noticeable texture. If you use too much of it, you might find that it makes your food or drink a bit gritty, though. Ground star anise is more potent than whole star anise, so you need to be careful that you don’t add too much. There’s a reason that many people think of star anise as overpowering! 

Where To Find Star Anise And What To Look For

Ground star anise is usually pretty easy to find in grocery stores if you look in the spice or Asian food aisle. Whole star anise can be a bit tricky to find, and you might need to go to a spice merchant or Asian grocer to get a hold of it.

If your grocery store has a bulk spices and herbs section, whole star anise can usually be found there. When buying whole star anise, have a look at the pods and make sure they aren’t broken.

You can test both ground and whole star anise for freshness by smelling it. Star anise should smell quite potent. If you find star anise that doesn’t smell like much, it might not be worth purchasing.

How Should I Store Star Anise?

One of the advantages of buying whole star anise is that it lasts for a very long time. If you store it properly, it can last for years. You can break off pods or petals when you need to use them.

Whether you buy whole or ground star anise, make sure you store the star anise in an airtight container. You also need to keep the star anise away from moisture, sunlight, and heat. While star anise holds for a while, it does lose its potency over time.

You should try to use the spice within a year of purchasing it, if possible. If your star anise has lost some of its potency, you might be able to get a stronger taste out of it by toasting it before you cook with it. I personally prefer to buy more, as star anise is a relatively inexpensive spice.

What are Some Ways I Can Cook with Star Anise? 

You can use star anise with both sweet and savory dishes. I love to use star anise sparingly when I bake- it’s a great way to liven up dishes and give them a spicy, sweet kick.

If you have a recipe that calls for cinnamon, try adding a sprinkle of star anise too, and see what you think! The key when using star anise is to be sparing. It can quickly become overpowering, especially in its ground form.

Given its role in Chinese cuisine, I think you’d be crazy not to try star anise out next time you try making Chinese food, especially if it’s on the heartier side.

Add some star anise to a soup broth or meat substitute and you’ll find that the flavor quickly becomes deeper and much heartier. It’s also a great way to make meat substitutes taste a bit more exciting, if you find them bland.

Porridge is one of my favorite meals, and I love sprinkling a bit of star anise on top of my porridge while I cook the oats. Used with brown sugar, berries, and cinnamon, star anise makes porridge an extra-warming and hearty meal.

It also works incredibly well with tart green apples. The apple cuts through the earthiness of the star anise, giving it some edge. This is one of my favorite snacks to eat during the wintertime- it warms you up instantly.

Star anise has recently become one of my favorite ingredients to bake with, too. You can give sweeter loaves, cakes, and muffins a lot of depth by sprinkling some star anise into the mixture. This works especially well in combination with other sweet, earthy flavors and spices.

I love making blueberry muffins with star anise. When I make these muffins, I melt down some plant-based spread and mix it with star anise before adding this to the mixture. These muffins are such a treat, and my friends and family all love them- vegan or not! 

Final Thoughts

Star anise is a unique spice with a lot of possibility for vegans. It tastes like sweet licorice and instantly makes meals more hearty. Perfect for the fall and cooler months when you want a comforting plant-based stew.

To find it, start by checking your regular grocery store. You’d be surprised how many chain grocery stores now carry star anise as it’s becoming more popular. When experimenting with recipes, add a sprinkle of star anise to your baked goods for an unexpected flavor. The more you use star anise, the more uses you’ll find!

What do you like about the flavor of star anise? What’s your favorite vegan recipe to make with it?

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Stephanie Mantilla

Plant-Based Diet & Vegan Lifestyle Expert

Stephanie is the founder of Plant Prosperous, a plant-based vegan living, and parenting blog. She has been eating a plant-based diet for over 24 years along with a B.S. in Biology & Environmental Science. She also has over 14 years of experience working in the environmental and conservation sectors. Stephanie is currently raising her son on a plant-based diet and hopes to help others who are wanting to do the same. You can read more about her here.

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