What Is Anise and How Do I Use It?

What it tastes like, how to pronounce it, how to substitute for it, and everything in between — here's what you need to know about the famously licorice-flavored spice.

Pile of anise seeds on white surface
Photo: keithferrisphoto

What Is Anise?

Anise (pimpinella anisum) also known as aniseed, is a flowering plant in the family Apiaceae that originated in the eastern Mediterranean and Southeast Asia. Its closest relatives include cumin, dill, caraway, and fennel. Surprisingly, star anise (and we'll get to that later) is not actually related at all. In the kitchen, we use what are referred to as seeds, either whole or ground; the "seeds'' are, in fact, the fruit of the plant.

What Does Anise Taste Like?

Anise has a very strong licorice taste, thus why it is often a divisive flavor among those who are not accustomed to it. Some people also find it offers a subtle sweetness.

How to Pronounce Anise

Anise is one of those words that commonly stirs pronunciation uncertainty. In the U.S., you will primarily hear one of two common pronunciations: ANN-iss or A-niece. Neither is wrong, but according to Merriam-Webster, ANN-iss, is considered the "correct" way to pronounce the spice in the United States.

What Is Anise Good For?

Generally speaking, anise is used to flavor a wide variety of foods, both sweet and savory. You'll find anise in a number of types of sausage, various processed meats, soups, stews, and anywhere a licorice flavor might be desired. Additionally, the leaves of the anise plant can be used in salads and in cheese spreads.

Many are familiar with the flavor of anise because of its use in various liquors and liqueurs, such as Ouzo, Sambuca, Pernod, Absinthe, and Pastis. (Interestingly, these clear liquids turn an opaque, almost milky color when water is added.) Anise is also prominently utilized in candies and baked goods giving them a pronounced licorice flavor.


Recipes To Try With Anise Seed:

Substitutions for Anise

Fennel seeds and star anise are both great substitutes for anise seed. Fresh fennel bulbs and fronds also offer a similar flavor profile, but are milder tasting and not as conveniently substituted in various dishes. Caraway can be used in place of anise, and does bring hints of the spice's distinct taste, but I find its flavor a little too specific to be the best substitute. And though related, dill and cumin are far too much "themselves" to swap into a recipe when anise is what you want. Generally, if you don't have anise on hand, I would stick with fennel seeds as your best bet for achieving a comparable taste.

What Is Anise Extract?

Anise extract has an extremely powerful licorice flavor and a bit of sweetness. Use sparingly because, like almond extract, it can easily overpower a dish. It is frequently used in baking, especially when the texture of the seeds is not appropriate. It is also used in the production of anise flavored liquors and liqueurs.

Italian Cookies with Anise on a cooling rack

Recipes To Try With Anise Extract:

Star Anise
GMVozd/Getty Images

Anise vs. Star Anise

Though not actually relating, and looking nothing like aniseed, star anise will bring a very, very strong licorice flavor to your dish. The reason for the similar flavor is anethole — an essential oil contained in both anise and star anise.The star-shaped pods contain seeds, and are most often used whole. These pods can then be removed before the dish is eaten, or left in for the aesthetic as long as they are not consumed. In terms of appearance, the spice looks like a dark mahogany, eight-pointed star. On the underside, the star points are open, revealing the seeds. Star anise is essential in Chinese, Vietnamese, Indonesian, and Indian cuisine. In addition to whole pods, powdered star anise is also available.

Authentic Pho
Arlene Preston

Recipes To Try With Star Anise:

For anyone who enjoys the flavor of licorice, both anise and star anise are kitchen essentials. Authentic versions of many dishes and baked goods just wouldn't be the same without it. And the various liquors and liqueurs are delightful additions to any home bar. (And not just your bar... where would Bouillabaisse be without its strong hit of Pernod?) Just keep in mind that both spices, and the liquors containing them, have a very strong licorice flavor. Use a light hand to start, as you can always add more.


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