Star anise is naturally obtained from the outside of the fruit of the illicium plant. It is a very aromatic flavoring ingredient, essential in Chinese kitchens. It is also present in Vietnamese, Thai, and Indian cuisines.
You can find the whole of previously ground star anise pods. It is part of the composition of the five Chinese spices (star anise, fennel seeds, cloves, ginger, and Sichuan peppercorns).
For a unique flavor, many kitchens opt to use star anise pods which surprisingly create a similar taste to sweet licorice. The pods which are commonly used in poaching fruits, can also be ground and used to prepare homemade soups and vegetable dishes.
Its intense sweet flavor reminds of licorice; with a powerful aniseed aroma.
It can be stored for more than two years in a sealed bottle and in a dark place. This goes for both the powder and the whole star anise. However, the vast majority of recipes use the whole grain.
This spice should not be confused with anise. Despite not coming from the same plant, star anise contains anethole, which is the same active ingredient that gives anise its aroma. This organoleptic coincidence can cause confusion between these two spices.
To be honest, star anise has some disadvantages. It is relatively expensive and difficult to find since it is not usually found in most supermarkets.
This may be one of the fundamental reasons why you are looking to replace it, or maybe you are preparing a recipe and you realize you don’t have it.
Whatever your reason is, here are the five alternatives that will save your dish.
#1. Chinese Five-Spice Powder
Chinese five-spice powder is the most recommended substitute for star anise as it contains cinnamon, cloves, fennel, Szechwan peppercorns, and star anise itself.
It will offer your dish the Chinese flavor you are looking for, specifically the licorice-like flavor it has because of star anise. You can replace approximately an identical amount of Chinese five-spice powder for star anise.
#2. Cumin Seeds with Tarragon
This substitute is not the quickest ingredient to use since you have to mix it, but perhaps this is the ideal opportunity to discover this brilliant combination.
Cumin Seeds have originally a warm and earthy flavor and aroma, but it somehow resembles a slight anise flavor. To make the perfect substitute, you can add tarragon because of its strong anise flavor. With the combination of the two, you can have the ideal replacement for star anise pods.
Tarragon is also commonly used in pickled vegetables because of its distinctive flavor.
Since tarragon retains a considerably stronger flavor than cumin seeds you should bear in mind that when using this as a substitute, consider a 2:1 ratio (cumin to tarragon).
This alternative is economical and can be found in most kitchens.
Cloves are aromatic herbs that can also be used for medicinal uses. It has anesthetic, analgesic, antibacterial, stimulant, and aphrodisiac properties.
They have a sweet flavor and are spicy. Commonly used for pastry, cloves mix well with meat and are used to season many foods.
Due to the warmth, they add to dishes and the intense taste they have. Our advice is to use them in moderation.
Related: Top 6 Substitutes for Cloves
#4. Fennel Seeds
This is an inexpensive alternative that can give you many flavor options.
Fennel is an aromatic plant with delicate leaves and yellowish flowers. Its seeds, which have a sweet flavor, taste similar to that of anise or licorice.
Oftentimes, fennel seeds are grounded into powder and are eventually added to dishes for star anise-like flavor and taste.
If you want a remarkably similar flavor, doubling the amount of fennel seeds will equate the amount of star anise called for in your recipe.
If you are seeking a substitute because you don’t want the taste of star anise, this alternative will be ideal if you use it in a small amount.
This attractive alternative is also identified as tabasco pepper or jamaica pepper.
Although it is not the easiest alternative you can find, this spice has the flavors of cloves, cinnamon, and nutmeg, which approximates the flavor of star anise.
You can find allspice in two ways: peppercorns or the whole berry.
Allspice that comes in berries has an amazing and longer shelf life because it can be used either whole or ground. That is why, whole berries are recommended for most consumers.
Remember though to moderately use this spice as it retains an intense aroma and may greatly change the flavor of your plate.
When it comes to substituting classic ingredients among Asian cuisines, we can find ourselves with more than a headache.
But it shouldn’t be that difficult as these 5 alternatives are cheap and easy to find. In addition, they can efficiently be of help in more than one recipe.
Do you like to experiment in the kitchen? What is your favorite recipe with star anise? Tell us.
*Photo by angelsimon/depositphotos