What is Anise?

Sweet Cumin FR: Anis GER: Anis INDIA: Saunf IT: An ice

SP: An’ts, Matalahuga or Matalahuva BOT: Pimpinella anisum FAM: Umbelliferae ILL: Plate 11, No. 2

The plant is an annual growing about two feet high. Like coriander, the leaves at the base are lobed, but further up the stem they become more finely divided. The flowers are yellowish-white. Anise, for leaf, can be easily grown from seed in a warm position, but in northern latitudes seed will ripen satisfactorily only in good summers. Since the seed can so easily be bought there is really no point in trying to produce it oneself. Anise is a native of the Levant and was used by the ancient Egyptians, Greeks and Romans. It spread to the rest of southern and central Europe in the Middle Ages and was sometimes grown in Britain. Today it is grown commercially in suitably warm climates all over the world, particularly in south-east Europe, North Africa and India.

The flavour of anise seed is sweet and quite characteristic. The essential oil is mainly anethole, a substance which occurs in equally large quantities in star anise, as one might guess, and to a lesser extent in cultivated fennel (but not in wild fennel).

What is Anise? Photo Gallery




Anise is used in flavouring sweets and creams; also in cakes and bread in eastern and northern Europe. Probably the most important gastronomic use is in various alcoholic liqueurs and cordials which are flavoured either by macerating the anise in alcohol, or by steam distillation of the seed to produce ‘oil of anise’. Most Mediterranean countries have at least one drink dominated by this flavour, though it will usually be derived not only from anise but also from fennel and star anise. In France, especially in the south, are the drinks that go under the generic name ofpastis (Pernod, Ricard, Berger etc.) as well as the sweet liqueurs such as anisette. In Spain and North Africa there is another crop of similar anise-flavoured preparations. Then, going east, one bypasses Italy, where anise-flavoured drinks are less popular, but in Greece we are back in business once more with ouzo, and in the eastern Mediterranean countries the popular version is rather similar and called arrak. The love of anise-flavoured drinks has also emigrated to Latin America.

Anise drinks are a convenient way of introducing the flavour of anise into cooking as well as into the cook. Some chefs put a few drops ofpastis into the garlic and parsley butter for snails, and with olive oil it marinates the Mediterranean rock fish before they are turned into a soupe de poisson.

Then there are, for instance, the many specialties Ricard – in which this pastis goes into dishes based on chicken, partridge, crayfish, salt cod, mullet and mackerel: anisette is part of the flavouring for the sauce for homard Courchamps and Pernod in Oysters Rockefeller. It is delicious in dishes of chestnuts and it also improves dried figs. When I lived in Majorca, village friends used always to give me, for Christmas, cakes of minced figs flavoured with anisette and dried in leaves of fig or vine (Catalan: Pa de figues).

To the East, aniseed is also an important spice. In India it is used in certain types of curry, particularly in vegetable and fish dishes from Bengal and is commonly chewed after meals (as also is fennel seed) to sweeten the breath and aid digestion. Aniseed for this purpose is usually slightly roasted, which gives it a nutty taste. A not so hygienic habit is handing dirty change in a saucer of seed. One is supposed to take a pinch to chew as one leaves.

Green anise leaf is less used than the seed, but some people use it as a flavouring herb or in salads. An almost classical French use is finely chopped leaves sprinkled on young carrots, but in my opinion young carrots which have not been scraped require no addition other than melted butter.Anise-pepper

Chinese Pepper, Faah Jiu, Japan pepper

GER: Anispfeffer

IT: Pepe d’anice

BOT: Xanthoxylum piperitum

FAM: Rutaceae

This spice is little-known in the West, although it is important in China, and is made by drying the red berries of a small, feathery-leaved, spiny tree. The flavour is hot and aromatic. Anise-pepper is one of the ingredients of Chinese five spices and is commonly used with fish and other strongly-flavoured ingredients.

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