anisetree or anise-tree green spice and leaves close-up. Herbs and spices

Secret ingredient: Star anise

Star anise stands out as the most visually striking spice available in stores, distinguished by its petite, star-shaped pods from which it derives its name. This spice is a fundamental component in various culinary traditions worldwide. 

“Originating in southern China, star anise is the fruit of an evergreen plant and is the very center of the compass rose in our registered logo,” said Bob Long, owner of The Spice & Tea Exchange on Hilton Head. “We use it in several of our small batch, handmade blends such as Northwest Salmon Rub, Pumpkin Pie Blend, Chinese 5 spice, our Mulling Mix and several others.”

Star anise, harvested from the Illicium verum tree, primarily flourishes in the southern regions of China and Southeast Asia. Often called Chinese star anise, this spice is collected before the fruit fully matures, then dried until its distinctive star-shaped pods harden. Renowned for its contribution to Chinese and Vietnamese cuisines, such as the iconic pho noodle soup, star anise also enhances teas, sauces, broths and is a key spice in roasting duck and various meats. Globally, its unique licorice flavor is a sought-after addition to liqueurs like sambuca, absinthe and pastis, and it enriches baked goods with its aromatic depth.

The spice’s signature licorice flavor is attributed to anethole, the same oil present in anise seed, though star anise and anise seed are botanically unrelated. Depending on its application, star anise can introduce a radiant zest to dishes and drinks or add a comforting warmth to mulled beverages. Its aromatic qualities lend a complex layer to meaty stews and broths when used judiciously. Notably, star anise possesses a more potent licorice taste than anise seed, making it a prized ingredient in baking, albeit used sparingly for balanced flavoring.

In culinary practices, star anise is available in two forms: whole and ground. Whole pods are typically used to simmer in dishes like soups and stews, imparting a spicy warmth and removed before serving. Ground star anise offers a convenient, powdered alternative, though it’s advised to grind whole pods as needed to maintain freshness and potency.

For optimal freshness, store star anise in an airtight container within a cool, dark space, ensuring whole stars stay vibrant for up to a year, while ground spice may begin diminishing in flavor after six to eight months. For enthusiasts eager to explore this intriguing spice further, a visit to The Spice & Tea Exchange in Coligny Plaza Shopping Center is recommended, offering a gateway to the rich and varied applications of star anise in culinary traditions around the world.

Lemon star anise shortbread cookies

Two distinct flavors are combined into a shortbread-like cookie for a bright and zesty taste with buttery undertones and a lightly delicate texture. Refrigerate or freeze and then slice and bake when a cookie craving hits.



8 star anise

1/2 cup vodka

1 1/4 cups flour

1 cup cornstarch

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon Florida Sunshine Spice Blend

1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, at room temperature

1/2 cup granulated sugar

1/2 cup lemon sugar, ground a bit in a food processor

2 egg yolks

Zest of 1 lemon


[1] Prepare star anise extract by crushing star anise with a mortar & pestle. Combine with vodka in a small pan and heat over medium-low heat to just below boiling. Remove from heat and steep for 15 minutes. Strain crushed pods and reserve extract. [2] Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper. Sift to combine the flour, cornstarch, baking powder and Florida Sunshine Spice Blend. [3] In a mixer with paddle attachment, cream the butter, sugar and a generous 1/4 cup of the Lemon Sugar until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Add the egg yolks one at a time; then add 2 1/2 tablespoons of star anise extract and the lemon zest. Mix well. [4] Add the dry ingredients in 3 additions, mixing until dough just comes together. Turn out onto the counter, shape it into a log and wrap it in plastic. Refrigerate for at least 20 minutes until firm. Slice 1/4-inch thick rounds from the log and place them on a baking sheet. Sprinkle lightly with remaining lemon sugar. Refrigerate while the oven heats to 350 degrees. [5] Bake for 15-18 minutes, rotating pans halfway through the baking time, until cookies are starting to brown on the edges. Set parchment paper on a wire rack and cool the cookies completely.

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