8 Pointed Twinkle – Star Anise

Star Anise has been used in China for hundreds of years. It is known for its marvellous medicinal and culinary properties. So much so that there is rarely a soy-based dish which does not feature some of this spice in it. And this has been the case for hundreds if not thousands of years.

Star Anise arrived in Europe in the 17th century and in no time made its way into the syrups, preserves, and jams back then. Until this day it is used to flavor drinks, chewing gums and confectionery in the Western world.

In traditional Chinese medicine, this spice is used to deal with issues related to the liver, kidney, spleen, and stomach. The pungent and warm effect that it has on the body is known to help to restore balance to these organ systems.

Star anise is borne on small magnolia-like trees. The tree can grows 8 – 15 meters tall and usually start producing the distinct 8-pointed fruits only in the 6th year of its growth. The trees bear fruits even for a 100 years or more. The fruits are usually picked before ripening and sun-dried. They then harden to form what looks like a hand-carved brown wood seals which we know as the spice. In China, the carpels of the flower are used as a mouth freshener. In Japan, the bark of this tree was used as incense.

The main undercurrent flavor in Star Anise strongly resembles that of aniseed with a warmer tone and a pleasing aftertaste. Star anise in addition also has a sweet flavour, unlike most other spices. The fennel and licorice-like aroma add to the whole flavor. Besides its culinary use, the oil extracted from the spice is used in toothpaste, mouthwashes and skin creams.

Star anise is one of the prime spices in Pho, the Vietnamese noodle soup. The flavors are usually combined with other spices such as chilies, cinnamon, cardamom, coriander, garlic, ginger, and lemongrass.

Active Components in Star Anise

Star anise is packed with a few biologically active molecules that contribute to its incredible medicinal properties.

  1. Linalool: This is a naturally occurring organic molecule known for anti-inflammatory properties. Studies also show that it helps fight away bacteria.
  2. Shikimic acid: This is one of the prime ingredients in most flu medications. Besides that, studies show that this too has antibacterial properties.
  3. Anethole: Anethole is an aromatic compound that is also found in fennel and anise seed. It is known to have anti-inflammatory and anti-diabetic properties.

Benefits of Star Anise:

1. Anti-Bacterial:

Star anise is a powerful antibacterial agent. It helps clear out a number of harmful strains of bacteria from the body. One study showed how Star Anise can be used to put an end to the growth of E.Coli. E.Coli is well known as the cause of diarrhea and pneumonia.

Many bacteria which have developed antibiotic resistance can be wiped out with star anise.

Anethole, linalool and shikimic acid are active components found in star anise. They are all known to have antibacterial properties.

2. Antioxidant Source:

Antioxidants help do away with harmful free radicals in the body. Star anise is seen to have a strong antioxidant property. This property can help it reduce the spread of chronic diseases.

Some studies done on animals even show how effective it could be against cancer cells. Though more studies are needed to understand the mechanism of its action in humans.

3. Antifungal:

In addition to wiping out harmful bacteria, star anise has also found to be effective in dealing with harmful fungal infections. These are usually caused by a variety of forms of yeast leading to conditions such as athlete’s foot or jock itch.

Star anise has been found to be effective against Candida albicans, which is one of the key yeast species causing a variety of yeast infections.

4. Flu Fighter:

Star anise has been used to relieve chills, fevers, muscle aches and fatigue. Brewing some star anise for a warm cup of tea will definitely give you an edge when fighting flu symptoms.

Besides Star anise is loaded with Shikimic acid, one of the prime components of Tamiflu. A study showed that combining shikimic acid with quercetin, a natural plant pigment was extremely effective in increasing the production of immune cells compared to treatment with Tamiflu.

5. Regulates Blood Sugar

Anethole, one of the active molecules present in star anise is known to play a role in reducing blood sugar. Some studies have shown that anethole was able to regulate some of the key enzymes involved in the metabolic breakdown of carbohydrates.

It definitely takes more than a couple of sprinkles to cure diabetes completely. But regular consumption is surely going to help increase the chances of doing away with diabetes completely.

Culinary Use

Star anise is considered to be an important component of the Chinese 5-Spice powder. The other 4 spices in this mix are cloves, cinnamon, fennel seeds and Sichuan pepper. There are a lot of variations to this spice mix in different parts of China. At times even ginger, galangal, black cardamom or licorice are added. The spices are usually stored whole and are ground up into a powder just before being used. Star anise also features as one of the spices in the Indian spice mix, the garam masala. 

Authentic Chinese cooking almost always includes star anise in its meat and poultry dishes. Any Chinese red cooking, in which ingredients are simmered for a prolonged period of time in dark soy sauce, features star anise. Even the stocks and soups have hints of this spice. The older Chinese habitually chew the whole spice as a digestant and mouth freshener post a heavy meal.

So the next time these star anise around, do not mistake it for the common aniseed. Make sure to aim for these stars the next time you hit the market!

Disclaimer: The above article is sponsored by Thyrve, the world’s first Gut Health Program that incorporates microbiome testing and personalized probiotics to ensure a healthier gut, happier life, and a brighter future.