An unusual, star-shaped spice, star anise adds pungent, licorice-like flavor and aroma to meats, stews, mulled beverages and liqueurs. Chinese star anise has been used as a spice and medicine for over 3000 years. The genus name is thought to come from the Latin illicium, which means allurement, a reference to the sweet aroma of the fruits.
The aroma of star anise is strong and licorice-like, more pungent than anise seed, but similar. Its flavor is like anise, but slightly harsher and more bitter. Star anise is very popular in Chinese dishes, though it can be found in other cuisines as well-- like South Vietnamese, Thai, Indonesian, Indian, and Malaysian. The Mandarin Chinese often chew the fruit whole as a breath freshener. Star anise is also used to flavor liqueurs like anisette and pernod. Star anise is also an essential ingredient in blends like five spice and garam masala--and it makes a lovely addition to potpourri.
Star anise is a source of shikimic acid, which is used to produce the anti-flu drug tamiflu. It also contains anethole, which give both star anise and anise their licorice-like flavor. Try star anise in meat and poultry dishes (especially pork, duck, and chicken), soups and stocks, and with fruits and compotes. Include it with other whole spices for mulling wine and cider.