Star anise is extremely versatile. In the United States we often see it in baked goods, but it is also delicious in chilled desserts, sauces, soups, stews, and with red meats. It is best used as an accent flavor. A single arm can add layers of complex flavor and aroma to many dishes, making it a frequently used “secret ingredient.” In many recipes for Chinese chicken soup, you will find it is nearly identical to American chicken soup, except for the addition of star anise. This makes the flavor of the soup so much richer and more interesting. It’s a careful balance though- too much star anise can overpower a dish.
Star anise is a bit sweet with licorice undertones. It gives the mouth a warm feeling with a mild numbing effect. Like anise seed, Star Anise gets its distinctive licorice taste from a chemical compound called anethol.
Star anise is great with chicken, fish, figs, citrus fruits, leeks, oxtail, pork, pumpkin, and root vegetables. It is wonderful in combination with cassia cinnamon, chili powders, coriander, fennel, garlic, ginger, lemon grass, and Sichuan peppercorns.