Star anise, one of the most popular spices used in Asian cooking, is native to Southeast Asia. Like most spices and herbs, star anise can be hard to find outside of its country of origin. In the US and Canada, star anise is extremely expensive. If you’re looking for more affordable but high-quality alternatives to real star anise, here are a few suggestions from us.
What Is Star Anise?
Star anise is a spice that’s been used for centuries in foods around the world. It’s one of the ingredients in Chinese five-spice powder and is often used in stews and other Asian dishes.
Star anise is a small, brown seed pod that has eight ridges on its outer surface. The inner side of each ridge has a small bump called an eye. Star anise pods are dried and ground into powder. The flavor of star anise is similar to that of licorice, but it’s more intense.
The name “star anise” comes from the fact that the pod looks like a star when cut open. Star anises are similar in taste to regular anise seeds, but they have a more intense flavor.
What Is Star Anise Used For?
Star anise has been used as both food and medicine for centuries by people from many different cultures around the world. The spice helps promote digestion, reduce gas, boost metabolism and improve circulation. It may also help relieve symptoms associated with colds or flu such as headaches and congestion.
It’s also used in herbal remedies, including Chinese medicine. Star anise is said to soothe the stomach and lungs. It may also have pain-relieving and anti-inflammatory effects.
Best Substitutes for Star Anise
1. Licorice root
The licorice root is used in several Asian dishes, as well as in many European and Middle Eastern cuisines. The licorice root has a strong, sweet taste that can be used to enhance the flavor of other ingredients. It also has medicinal properties that can help alleviate stomach problems, coughs and respiratory issues.
2. Fennel seeds
The fennel seed has a sweet licorice flavor that can be used to replace star anise in certain dishes. Fennel seeds are often used in Indian cuisine, where they’re often added to curries and other meat-based dishes. Like star anise, fennel seeds have a strong aroma and can overpower more delicate flavors if you add too much of them to your dish.
3. Cinnamon sticks
Cinnamon sticks can be used as a substitute for star anise because they share similar flavors. Cinnamon sticks are sweeter than star anise, so use them sparingly if you’re trying to replicate the original recipe as closely as possible. You can also add cinnamon sticks to your dish after it’s already cooked, which will give it more flavor without changing the overall taste too much.
4. Anise Seed
Anise seeds are another option if you need to replace star anise in your recipe. Anise seeds are smaller than the ones used in cooking, but they have a similar sweet taste with just a hint of licorice flavor running through them. Anise seeds can be added directly into your dish prior to cooking or sprinkled on top after cooking is finished.
5. Chinese five-spice powder
Chinese five-spice powder is made from star anise along with cinnamon, cloves and fennel seeds. This exotic spice blend adds a distinctive flavor to all kinds of dishes. It’s especially good when used to season chicken wings or ribs before cooking them on the grill.
Nutmeg tastes similar to star anise but it’s milder and sweeter than its Chinese cousin. Both spices are often used together because they complement each other well while still allowing their own distinct flavors to shine through in the dish being prepared. Chinese five-spice powder can be substituted for nutmeg. You can also follow the same steps with using just half a teaspoon of nutmeg for each tablespoon of star anise.
7. Anise Essential Oil
Anise essential oil is an alternative to star anise. It has a strong licorice taste and can be used as a substitute in all the same ways as star anise. You can also use it to make your own anise extract at home by adding it to vodka or other alcohol and letting it sit for several weeks.
8. Garam Masala
Garam masala is a spice blend that contains black pepper, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, cumin, coriander and more. It’s commonly used in Indian cuisine and has a similar flavor profile to star anise with a bit more heat. Garam masala can be found at most grocery stores in the spice aisle or ethnic food section.
9. Cumin Seeds
Cumin seeds are often used in Indian cuisine as a substitute for star anise because they have a similar flavor profile. Cumin seeds are also very common in Middle Eastern cooking and can be found in many Mexican dishes as well. This spice adds warmth and earthiness to soups, stews and other foods that need some extra flavor help!
Coriander seeds also have a sweet licorice taste that works well with certain dishes. You can use this spice to flavor chicken or fish dishes since it works well with poultry or seafood flavors. Coriander is not just for savory dishes though — adding this ingredient to breads or cakes can add an interesting twist! It’s also a great way to season vegetables like carrots, beets and cabbage.
11. Vanilla Extract
One of the best substitutes for star anise is vanilla extract. If you need to replace the flavor of star anise, just add a few drops of vanilla extract to your dish and it will have a similar taste and aroma. Vanilla extract is available at almost any grocery store and it’s inexpensive.
Tarragon is another herb that has a similar flavor to star anise. It’s a bit more expensive than vanilla extract so it might not be as economical if you use a lot of tarragon in your cooking. However, if you only use a little bit of tarragon in each dish then it can be a great substitute for star anise without breaking the bank.
Allspice is a close relative of Star Anise, and it’s also a great substitute for it in cooking. The two spices have similar flavors, but Allspice has more of a peppery taste. Allspice is used in many European cuisines, including French and German. It’s perfect for making marinades, pickling brines, and spice blends.
Cardamom is another popular Indian spice that’s often used in curries and other dishes from the region. It has a sweet, citrusy flavor that works well with meat and poultry. Cardamom can also be used in desserts and baked goods.
15. Dried tangerine peel
A few people have reported success by using tangerine peel in place of star anise. The flavor from the tangerine peel will be slightly different than how it tastes when it is fresh, but this is a great option if you’re in a pinch and don’t have the star anise on hand.
These substitutes are widely used by chefs, and will save you money if you are using star anise in your savory cooking. There isn’t a one-to-one substitution ratio because different star anise substitutes have different flavors, but they’re all worth trying in your dishes.