Thursday, 30 June 2016


“All those spices and herbs in your spice rack can do more than provide calorie-free, natural flavorings to enhance and make food delicious. They're also an incredible source of antioxidants and help rev up your metabolism and improve your health at the same time.” - Suzanne Somers

Illicium verum is a medium-sized native evergreen tree in the family Schisandraceae, native of northeast Vietnam and southwest China. A spice commonly called star anise, star anise seed, Chinese star anise or badiam that closely resembles anise in flavour is obtained from the star-shaped pericarp of the fruit of Illicium verum, which are harvested just before ripening. Star anise oil is a highly fragrant oil used in cooking, perfumery, soaps, toothpastes, mouthwashes, and skin creams. About 90% of the world’s star anise crop is used for extraction of shikimic acid, a chemical intermediate used in the synthesis of oseltamivir, which is an antiviral medication used to treat influenza A and influenza B (flu), and to prevent flu after exposure. The medication is taken orally.

Illicium comes from the Latin illicio meaning “entice”. In Persian, star anise is called بادیان bādiyān, hence its French name badiane. In India, it is called badian or phoolchakri and in Pakistan, it is called badian. Illicium species are evergreen shrubs and small trees. The leaves are alternately arranged and borne on petioles. The blades are glandular and fragrant. The flowers are solitary. They have few to many tepals in two or three rows, the inner ones like petals and the outer ones often smaller and more like bracts. A few to many stamens and pistils are at the centre. The fruit is an aggregate of follicles arranged in a star-shaped whorl. One seed is in each follicle, released when the follicle dehisces. The seed has a thick, oily endosperm.

These are plants of moist understory, adapted to shady habitat, and some species are so sensitive to light that too much sunlight causes them significant stress, manifesting in chlorosis and necrosis of the leaves. Several species are cultivated as ornamental plants for their flowers, foliage, and fragrance, leading to the development of several cultivars. Because of their ecological requirements, many taxa can only be grown in low-light situations. The essential oils of several species are used as flavourings and carminatives; however, the oils of I. anisatum and I. floridanum are toxic. I. verum, the common star anise, is used to flavour food and wine. Its fruit is a traditional Chinese medicine called pa-chio-hui-hsiang, which is used to treat abdominal pain and vomiting.

Star anise contains anethole, the same ingredient that gives the unrelated anise its flavor. Recently, star anise has come into use in the West as a less expensive substitute for anise in baking, as well as in liquor production, most distinctively in the production of the liquor Galliano. It is also used in the production of sambuca, pastis, and many types of absinthe. Star anise enhances the flavour of meat. It is used as a spice in preparation of biryani and masala chai all over the Indian subcontinent. It is widely used in Chinese cuisine, and in Indian cuisine where it is a major component of garam masala, and in Malay and Indonesian cuisines.

The tree is widely grown for commercial use in China, India, and most other countries in Asia. The tree is also grown in Southern New South Wales in Australia. Star anise is an ingredient of the traditional five-spice powder of Chinese cooking. It is also a major ingredient in the making of phở, a Vietnamese noodle soup. It is also used in the French recipe of mulled wine, called vin chaud (hot wine).

Japanese star anise (Illicium anisatum), a similar tree, is highly toxic and inedible; in Japan, it has instead been burned as incense. Cases of illness, including “serious neurological effects, such as seizures”, reported after using star anise tea, may be a result of deliberate economically motivated adulteration with this species. Japanese star anise contains anisatin, which causes severe inflammation of the kidneys, urinary tract, and digestive organs. The toxicity of I. anisatum, also known as shikimi, is caused by its potent neurotoxins anisatin, neoanisatin, and pseudoanisatin, which are noncompetitive antagonists of GABA receptors.

In the language of flowers, a blossoming branch of star anise means: “You are very enticing”. The star-shaped cartwheels of the spice mean: “Your youth is alluring”.

This post is part of the Floral Friday Fotos meme,
and also part of the Food Friday meme.

1 comment:

  1. Nice article. Years ago an American-Chinese friend of mine used star anise in their tea and holiday cookies.