Anise seed is aromatic and sweet with licorice-flavor notes similar to fennel, star anise, and caraway. The commonality between these spices is the flavor compound anethole. This naturally occurring organic compound has been measured at 13 times sweeter than sugar making it sought by confectioners and liqueur makers alike.
In addition to flavor similarities, anise seed is also similar to fennel and caraway seed in its ridged appearance—however anise seed are smaller and darker than both those spices. Anise seed are crescent-shaped, range in color from pale brown to greenish-gray, and often have a bit of stem protruding from one of their tapered ends. Anise "seed" is actually the fruit of the plant, a schizocarp that splits into single-seeded parts on maturity.
In savory dishes, use whole anise seed with a light touch. In baked goods it can be added whole or ground to doughs. Its flavor can complement fruity pie fillings and even chocolate. Anise is added to dukkas and curries, and is an ingredient in garam masala spice blend. It pairs well with cumin, fennel, cardamom, cinnamon, or ginger especially in caramel, or vanilla puddings or similar desserts.
Anise seed can be purchased and stored whole for freshness and ground to a powder as-needed for baked goods like biscotti or cookies, cakes.
Faintly sweet with a tang
Narrow brownish kernels
Store in covered container in cool, dark cupboard. Should last a year or longer.
Cumin, cardamom, cinnamon or ginger
1.2 oz (34 g) per 1/2 cup
Anise and star anise are not the same spice, nor are they related species despite the similar name and flavor profile. They do both contain the organic compound anethole, which gives them their similar licorice flavor.
Fennel is another spice that contains anethole. It is a seed that is often confused with anise—due to its similar flavor profile and also to its similar appearance. Fennel seed is considerably larger and often brighter in color than anise seed. Anise seed, in addition to being smaller, also tends to have a small bit of stem "tail" attached to one end; whereas this happens only occasionally with fennel, it is much more frequent in anise seed.
Since anise seed is more expensive to produce than star anise, star anise has surpassed anise in production for anethole extraction and for commercial use in flavoring food products. Anethole is reputedly multiple times sweeter than sugar with the distinction of having a pleasant flavor at higher concentrations.
Use this pungent spice sparingly. If used whole, chewing will release more complex flavor in your dish.
Anethole, the aromatic compound that gives anise, star anise, fennel and licorice its flavor, is highly soluble in alcohol but not very soluble in water. Drinks that combine anise-liqueurs with water or ice will result in cloudy liquid called the ouzo effect.