Spice it up: Star Anise

Spice it up: Star Anise
 
One of the most distinct flavors in Chinese cuisine comes from the star anise (Illicium verum). The evergreen tree that produces the star anise is native to China and Vietnam. Known as bajiao (eight-horn) in China, the spice, as its name implies, has a similar flavor to anise and is star-shaped. Star anise is used in the East as aniseed is used in the West. Apart from its use in sweetmeats and confectionery, where sweeteners must be added, it contributes to meat and poultry dishes, mixing especially well with pork and duck. In Chinese red cooking, where the ingredients are simmered for a lengthy period in dark soy sauce, star anise is nearly always added to beef and chicken dishes. Chinese stocks and soups very often contain the spice. It flavors marbled eggs, a decorative Chinese hors d’oeuvre or snack. Mandarins with jaded palates chew the whole dried fruit habitually as a post-prandial digestant and breath sweetener—an oriental comfit. In the West, star anise is added in fruit compotes and jams, and in the manufacturing of anise-flavored liqueurs, the best known being anisette. It is also an ingredient (along with cinnamon, cloves, fennel, and pepper) in the five-spice seasoning widely used in Chinese cuisine.
 
Star anise keeps for over a year in an airtight container kept in a cool, dry place. It is much better to buy the whole spice and grind it at home when needed. The whole star can be added directly to cooking pots, although caution should be used as the spice is powerful. Too much star anise can overpower a dish with its licorice flavor. Two whole star anise is usually enough to add a taste of the Orient to a dish for four people. Ground star anise can even be used to flavor cakes, cookies, and ice cream.
 
The star anise is commonly added to medicinal teas, cough mixtures, and pastilles. Star Tea that has been infused with star anise is a remedy for colic and rheumatism.
 
The shikimic acid found in star anise is the primary ingredient used to manufacture the drug Tamiflu, which is considered one of the best medicines to counteract the effects of bird flu. In 2005, there was a shortage of star anise because of demand from pharmaceutical companies.
 
Source: www.radio86.co.uk, http://articles.latimes.com, www.theepicentre.com