A Brief History Of Star Anise – The Benefits Of Adding Star Anise In Your Diet – Nutritional Benefits of Star Anise – Anise Side Effects – Are There Any?
You might mistake it as home décor when you see it in the supermarket. As it turns out, this perfect-looking star-shaped pod, popularly known as star anise, is one of the must-have ingredients in your kitchen.
In fact, many Asian dishes like Vietnamese pho and Chinese noodles incorporate star anise.
What’s with this ingredient, anyway? How can you incorporate star anise in your dishes? Does it have any nutritional benefits?
Star Anise, In A Nutshell
Star anise comes from the Plantae kingdom. It is also a seedpod from the fruit of Chinese evergreen tree, Illicium verum.
From the name itself, it is a star-shaped spice that is native to China and Vietnam. When you look closely, the star anise pod has six to eight points. Each point contains seeds responsible for the sweet and potent flavor.
Compared to other spices, the flavor of star anise is strong and distinct. It contains anethole, a compound responsible for licorice-like flavor; hence giving you both sweet and spicy taste. It is also best paired with cinnamon, ginger, and nutmeg, and blends well with poultry and beef products.
The good news is star anise is readily available in supermarkets. You can check out the spices or Asian cooking aisle and you will see these star-shaped pods.
Don’t mistake this with Japanese star anise, Illicium anistatum. Although it is a similar tree, Japanese star anise is inedible and more toxic. Hence, this is often used as incense.
Star Anise History
A staple in Chinese cuisine, it’s not surprising that star anise dates back to centuries ago. It dates back to 100 BC in Vietnam and Southern China.
Apart from being a staple ingredient in the kitchen, star anise was also used in traditional oriental medicine. In fact, it was used as a digestive aid and as a treatment for colic, fluid retention, and other digestive conditions.
Apparently, it takes 15 years to produce the seeds from the evergreen tree, thereby making it challenging to transport in the Western side of the world.
It was believed that star anise was first introduced in Europe sometime between 16th and 17th century. Because of its sweet taste, Europeans used it in jams, puddings, fruit preserves, and syrups.
Fast forward today, star anise is grown in China and Japan. Nonetheless, many countries around the world use this spice in many dishes.
Star Anise Nutrition Facts
There is a reason why star anise is also used medicinally. This spice is packed with the following nutrients:
Aside from the licorice-like flavor, this aromatic compound comes with tons of health benefits. It is anti-inflammatory and antithrombotic. It could help against certain conditions like cancer and diabetes.
This component has anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial properties.
Most flu medications have this compound, which is also found in star anise. It also comes with potent antibacterial and antiviral properties.
This nutrient is known for being high in antioxidants. That being said, it helps boost immune health and protects you against diseases and infections.
It also has quercetin, gallic acid, and limonene that contribute to star anise’s antioxidant and anti-microbial properties.
Star Anise Benefits
Why should you include star anise in your diet? It’s because of these benefits:
Rich in Antioxidants
Keep in mind that antioxidants are substances that prevent free radicals inside the body. Apart from serving as your first line of defense, it also combats oxidative stress, which is crucial in preventing the progression of chronic diseases.
Because of its antioxidant properties, some are suggesting that this spice could be effective against cancer cells. One animal study showed that it helped reduce oxidative stress and tumor burden.
Despite this, there are limited studies showing how effective star anise is against cancer.
Gets Rid of Bacteria
Star anise is also known for its antibacterial properties. Based on a 2002 study published in Psychotherapy Research, these properties are helpful in protecting you against harmful strains of bacteria.
Another study published in Bioengineered showed that star anise extract could potentially block the growth of E. coli bacteria. In another study, researchers found out that antibacterial properties of star anise could fight against 67 strains of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. This could potentially open doors for the development of antibiotic medications.
Star anise could help the body get rid of bacteria. This follows that it could offer protection against fungal infections, right?
The answer is yes.
Keep in mind that fungal infections are more challenging to treat than bacteria. That being said, a study published in Korean Journal of Medical Mycology showed that star anise was an effective treatment against Candida albicans, a fungus that causes yeast infection.
The essential oil variant offers the same benefit as well. Researchers found out that the bioactive compounds in star anise essential oil could suppress biofilm and formation of the cell wall of infectious fungi in the body.
It’s not surprising to see this benefit. After all, star anise contains shikimic acid, a compound with potent antiviral capabilities. Believe it or not, this compound is also a main ingredient in popular influenza medications.
Further study also showed that star anise essential oil could also help in treating viral infections, including herpes simplex type 1. This could also be the reason why brewing a cup of star anise could help you feel better when you have flu.
Boosts Heart Health
Did you know that one person dies every 37 seconds because of cardiovascular disease? Heart disease is also responsible for one in every four deaths in America.
The good news is you can prevent this from happening – and star anise could help you with that.
Thanks to its antioxidant properties, adding star anise in your diet not only reduces oxidative stress and buildup of free radicals but also boosts your heart health.
According to this 2015 study, researchers found out that star anise helped normalize weight, lipid levels, and blood pressure levels among mice with a high-fat diet. Consequently, it minimized the occurrence of plaque buildup in the arteries and reduced signs of inflammation.
Still, this doesn’t mean you should eat high-fat diet and drink star anise tea everyday. A healthy diet and regular exercise could make a difference in ensuring that your heart is in top condition.
Regulates Blood Sugar
High blood sugar could contribute to a lot of complications later on, including diabetes. If left untreated, this could progress to more serious conditions such as nerve damage and kidney failure.
The good news is adding star anise in your diet could help you regulate your blood sugar levels.
It’s all because of anethole. According to a study, this powerful compound helped improve blood sugar among rats. Anethole was instrumental in regulating certain key enzymes involved in metabolizing carbohydrates.
Still, don’t rely heavily on star anise to keep your blood sugar to its optimum level. Balanced diet and active lifestyle still play crucial roles, so make sure you incorporate these in your routine.
Star Anise Side Effects
Star anise comes with numerous health benefits. Does this mean you won’t experience any side effects?
Generally, star anise is safe for human consumption. Just like any other food ingredients, you have to use this in moderation and according to the recipe.
You also have to be careful about the type of star anise to use. The Japanese variant must never be taken under any circumstances. It contains potent neurotoxins that could lead to nausea, hallucination, and seizures.
Apart from these concerns, there are several individuals who are not recommended to include star anise in their diet due to limited studies determining its safety:
- Pregnant women
- Individuals with food allergy after eating star anise
It is imperative that you check your sources of star anise first to make sure that you are getting the real thing.
Star Anise Storage
Storage is crucial, especially when you want to prolong star anise’s life span. Whether you buy in whole or ground spice, here are some storage tips you need to keep in mind:
- Place the spice inside an airtight container.
- Make sure star anise is away from any form of sunlight, heat, or moisture.
- Dark, cool place is the best place to keep the spice.
Whole star anise will stay fresh for approximately one year. On the other hand, the ground variant could lose its flavor after six months.
For longer shelf life, go for the whole one.
Star Anise Recipes
Star anise could bring a different flavor and aroma to your dish. Still, don’t limit what this spice can do.
Check out recipe ideas on how you can use star anise:
Star Anise Tea
In a kettle, place one or two star anise pods for every cup of water. Let it steep for 10 to 15 minutes. Then, remove the pods. Sweeten it with honey.
Drink this three times a day, especially after every meal to improve digestion.
Warm Spiced Chai
In a saucepan, combine two cups each of milk and water. Add four whole cloves, crushed cardamom pods, crushed peppercorns, one cinnamon stick, and grated ginger. Stir for 10 minutes.
Then, add two tablespoons each of sugar and black tea in the mixture. Stir for five minutes then strain into glasses.
Additional Ingredient in Your Favorite Dishes
You can also use star anise pods to give soup, braised and stewed dishes more flavor and aroma. It also blends well with chicken and beef dishes.
Simply put one or two pods and mix well with the other ingredients. Let it simmer to get the licorice-like flavor. Then, remove the pods and serve.
Cinnamon – Star Anise Sugar
In a grinder or blender, combine cinnamon stick, star anise, two tablespoons of sugar, and a pinch of salt. Grind until in powder form.
You can use this mixture by sprinkling over toasted bread with butter, add in your breakfast oats or pancake mix, or as a sugar substitute for applesauce.
Star Anise Alternatives
Let’s say you don’t have star anise but the recipe calls for one. Don’t worry. There are alternatives you can use so you won’t compromise the taste.
Here are some alternatives:
Five Spice Powder
Chinese five-spice powder contains five different spices, including star anise. It is readily available in supermarkets as well. Take it easy on usage, though. If the recipe calls for, say two teaspoons of star anise, then use 1 ½ teaspoons instead of five spice powder.
This is another spice with licorice-like flavor and a good alternative to star anise. To achieve the same flavor, make sure you combine fennel seeds with anise seeds. When the recipe calls for a specific measurement of star anise, make sure you add one and a half times more of fennel and anise seeds combination.
Contrary to popular belief, star anise and anise seeds are two different ingredients. From the name itself, anise seed is the seed itself. It can be used as a whole or in ground form. When replacing star anise with anise seeds, make sure to double the measurement since the seed variant is milder.
This ingredient may lack licorice flavor, but allspice can be a good alternative as well. It is best to go for the ground variant since it is more able to release aromatic notes similar to cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg.
The Bottom Line
For years, star anise found its way outside China and Vietnam, and into everyone’s kitchen around the world. Thanks to its distinct licorice-like taste and aroma, this spice has become a staple ingredient in many dishes.
Aside from the taste, star anise comes with tons of health benefits, including antibacterial and antiviral properties. It is packed with essential nutrients and antioxidants, which helps take care of your heart and blood sugar.
Because of this, don’t be afraid to experiment on your dishes and drinks. Just make sure you get the right one. Japanese star anise, no matter how nice the people growing this spice are, is not good for human consumption.