Anise or aniseed
Hint of mild licorice. Used in cakes, baking and confectionery and to flavor alcoholic drinks.
How to identify aniseed
Aniseed is the small greenish-gray seed of anise plant, an annual herb with dainty white flowers, in umbrella like clusters, bearing a small fruit that splits in two seeds. The plant can grow up to 22 inches (60cm) and has bright green leaves. Its sugary mildly licorice taste is very popular in kids’ sweets.
Anise is native to the middle East. It grows very well in countries with a warm temperate climate, like those surrounding the Mediterranean where it is cultivated, mainly in Spain, Greece, and Egypt. The anise plant is also cultivated in Mexico and India.
How to use and store
It s available whole or ground. Buy preferably whole and store them in airtight containers, away from sunlight. Look for greenish color, because the seeds turn brown as they get stale. Grind them in a mortar or pepper mill, as necessary. Ground aniseed quickly looses its flavor and aroma
Aniseed can be used to flavor sweet and savory dishes. Aniseed is used as flavor in alcoholic liqueurs like the French pastis or anisette, Pernod or Ricard, the Spanish ojen or anís, the Greek ouzo, the Turkish rakis or the Arab arrak. Those liquors are typically enjoyed at the end of a copious meal.
How to grow anise
The seeds like a long hot summer to ripen. Sow in early spring in a spot with plenty of sunlight. Thin the seedlings to about 8” (20cm) and keep them carefully weeded.
The seed heads can be harvested when they change color. The seeds should be hang to dry in a paper bag, in a warm, dry place.
Cooking with aniseed
Use aniseed to flavor sweets, creams, cakes and breads. It can be added to soups, sauces, pork, or vegetables as you would with fennel.
Lemon-anise baked fish
a whole white fish, like sea bream or sea bass, scaled, clean and ready for the oven (2.2lb would render 4 servings)
4 tbsp olive oil, and some for the pan
4 tsp aniseed
3-4 lemon slices
- Warm the oven to 390°F (180°C)
- Score the fish on one side two or three times and introduce a half lemon slice in each cut.
- Introduce a few seeds inside, season with salt and pepper, and brush with olive oil.
- Set on an oven pan, cover the bottom with olive oil to prevent the fish from sticking to the pan, and scatter a few more seeds on the oil.
- Bake until ready. Be careful not to overcook. It should take about 40 minutes for a 2.2lb fish.
Tip – You can cook the fish on top of a grill, turning once. Try the lemon slices inside. A charcoal fire adds extra flavor, but an ordinary grill can do a good job.
Now, it is your turn. Try sprinkling ground aniseed on carrots, adding a little bit to your cake mix, to get a flavor like Italian biscotti. The fresh leaves can be used in salads.
If you don't have it, substitute 1 tsp aniseed with:
- 2 small star anise, crushed - it will give a bolder flavor.
- 1 tsp fennel seed - will produce a milder and sweeter flavor.
- 1 tsp ground aniseed myrtle - sweeter, milder flavor.
- 1 tsp caraway seeds - milder flavor with a hint of nut.
- 1 drop anise oil or 2 drops anise extract - for sweet dishes.
- 2 tsp fresh tarragon, chopped - will add green color and different texture.
Aniseed is considered to be a digestive. The seeds can be chewed to sweeten the breath.
Curious facts about aniseed
Aniseed is probably one of the oldest cultivated spices. The early Egyptians were already using it, as did Greeks and Romans, who used it to flavor chicken, pork, vegetables, and some small spicy cakes, served at the end of a copious meal as a digestive. From the middle ages to the 19th century, aniseed “comfits” —sugar coated seeds— were served after banquets for the same purpose. Nowadays, we enjoy aniseed flavor liquor after a heavy meal. Aniseed aids digestion. Babies and young children can benefit of aniseed in tea form. Do not mistake anise or fennel tea with star anise tea.
pimpinella anisum (umbelliferae)
English: anise, aniseed.