Star anise is a Chinese spice that comes from dark-brown colored fruit of an evergreen tree. It’s widely used in China and Vietnam, particularly in savory recipes, soups, stews and with meat.
This spice has a strong flavor which seems to taste spicy, peppery-warm and sweet at the same time. If it’s an important herb in your kitchen cabinet but you have run out of it or want to try something different, then you may like to know some star anise substitutes.
Best Star Anise Substitutes for Different Recipes
1. Anise Seeds
One of the most appropriate substitutes for star anise is anise seed. Although they are not the same, they both have anethole that gives them such a unique flavor. You can replace each other in many dishes. As for the taste, anise seeds are spicy while star anise is mild. Use them according to this ratio: ½ teaspoon anise seeds for 1 whole star anise.
You can use anise seeds in meat dishes, baked goods such as pies. In some cases you can also use it as a means of flavor for hot chocolate or coffee. Sometimes anise seeds are added to alcoholic beverages such as absinthe, sambuca, and ouzo.
2. Anise Extract
Just like anise seeds, anise extract has a stronger taste and flavor than the whole star anise. It’s made of anise oil and contains water and vodka. This combination provides a specific licorice flavor, which is close to star anise flavor. You can substitute it for star anise in cooked dishes, baked goods, beverages and desserts.
3. Fennel Seeds
If you are planning to use small amounts of star anise in your recipe then you can also substitute it with fennel seeds. They don’t taste the same way but in small amounts they can provide a similar flavor. There are thousands of recipes requiring fennel seeds as they come with a mild and sweet flavor and make your dish or desserts taste better.
Instead of 1 teaspoon star anise you can use 2 teaspoons of fennel seeds. But if you avoid sweet flavors especially in meat dishes, you’d better use a small amount of fennel seeds. For a well-balanced flavor you can even mix fennel seeds with anise seeds. This way you’ll have a richer flavor close to star anise flavor.
4. Ground Cloves
In place of star anise you can also use ground cloves. This spice comes from the evergreen Syzygium aromaticum flowers. They are made from nail-shaped flower buds and offer a strong aromatic flavor mingled with pungent flavor. This herb is often used in hot drinks but you can use it as a spice in dishes and desserts as well.
When substituting with anise you’d better choose ground cloves instead of whole cloves. If you want to use them whole in soups or sauces you should remove them before serving.
More often ground cloves substitute star anise in baked goods and sweet recipes such as biscuits, jams, buttercreams, and sauces. While you won’t get the licorice notes of anise from cloves, they are still a good alternative for star anise.
5. Chinese Five Spice Powder
Chinese five spice powder is a blend of 5 herbs and spices which provide a rich aroma. It’s made of Chinese cardamom, cloves, star anise, fennel seeds and Schezuan peppercorns. Star anise is the dominant spice in this combination of flavors.
Chinese five spice powder is widely used in meat dishes, particularly in poultry and roasted fish. Since one of the spices found in this powder is anise, you can substitute it with star anise. The flavor will be stronger and richer, and it will provide your dish with licorice-like flavor thanks to star anise powder.
6. Caraway Seeds
Caraway seeds are made from dried fruits of the caraway plant. If you choose to use caraway seeds instead of star anise you should consider the fact that it has a bitter taste and stronger flavor. So, either use it in small amounts or mix with tarragon to get a similar taste to anise.
Caraway’s woody aroma mixed with taragon’s sweet combination of vanilla, mint, and eucalyptus ideally substitutes star anise in meat dishes.
As for cinnamon, it comes with a sweet and woody flavor. It’s also one of the spices found in Chinese five-spice powder and can substitute star anise in desserts. This spice has a mild and subtle flavor when used at small amounts. But it will pervade your kitchen with a pleasant aroma if you add it to baked goods.
Allspice is produced from berries. This spice also called Jamaica pepper comes with some distinct flavor. It’s similar to cloves, cinnamon, and nutmeg, that’s why it’s called allspice. You can use it instead of star anise in many dishes such as baked goods, desserts and some kinds of drinks like rum and liquors. In some cases allspice is also used to season meat, savory foods, soups and veggies.
9. Licorice Root Powder or Licorice Liqueur
Since star anise carries licorice flavor in it, you can also consider licorice root powder and its liquor as another good substitute for star anise. Licorice is often used in candies and baked goods as a sweetener.
If you are out of licorice root powder, then choose licorice liqueur instead. Both work well in dishes that call for ground star anise. You can choose them for desserts and savory foods, but make sure you use small amounts in savory foods and especially with meat.
One of the most unique substitutes for star anise is sambuca. It’s a sweet Italian liqueur made of star anise and green anise. Just like licorice liqueur you may use it in small amounts when choosing as an alternative for star anise. It’s a colorless liquid and you can use it in desserts and baked goods.
FAQs on Star Anise
How does star anise taste?
Star anise usually tastes slightly sweet, mild and warm. It has a licorice flavor. It’s usually added whole in hot meals, soups, stews and broths to provide a stronger aroma. However, you should remove it before serving. It will add a sweet-licorice-peppery flavor to hot meals.
How can I store star anise?
You can store star anise in an airtight container just like many other dried herbs and spices. Make sure you keep it away from heat and the direct rays of the sun. You can keep whole star anise for about 3-4 years, while ground star anise maintains its flavor in a container for 1-2 years.
Is star anise and aniseed the same thing?
No, they are produced from totally different plants and although they have similar names, they also differ in taste and flavor. However, they can replace each other when ground. Aniseed or anise seed offers a spicy flavor, whereas star anise has a tender and milder aroma.
What is star anise good for?
Star anise is an excellent source of vitamin C. It contains antioxidants, shikimic acid and anethole. This herb is good for the health of the heart. It can help to steady blood sugar and to fight against flu. Star anise is found in several types of medicines that fight against cough and flu.
Generally, the herbs and spices that offer licorice flavor can be used as star anise substitutes. However, you should clarify the ratio to star anise before using any of the alternatives in a dish, dessert or drink. It’s also important to know whether your dish requires whole versions of these substitutes or ground. As for the liquid alternatives such as licorice root liqueur and sambuca, you may use them in small amounts and choose suitable combinations of flavors to reach a pleasant taste.