One of the pillars of the Chinese cuisine flavor is from star anise. Star anise is endemic to China, Vietnam and Japan. This curious looking seedpod has a robust flavor and it added mostly to savory dishes in China and Vietnam.
This well traveled spice became popular in the west when European explorers brought some from China to their homeland. When it reached the west, the star anise was used in sweeter food like jams, pastries and drinks.
Star anise is a distinct taste that you will never miss once it is added to a dish. It is meant to stand out and balance certain flavors. One of the most famous Chinese dishes worldwide is the braised pork belly.
This pork belly look caramelized once it is ready to be served. It is usually slow-cooked in soy sauce, ginger, garlic, sugar and star anise. The star anise amplifies the soy and sugar while its flavor distinctly shines.
Star anise is widely sought after for cooking all over the world but what would you do if you didn’t have any in your kitchen? Here are 10 great substitutes for star anise.
1. Anise Seeds
Star anise and anise seeds though similar in name and flavor are actually two very different plants from each other. Star anise is grown in Asia while anise is grown in the west. Star anise is from a tree while anise is from the parsley family.
The reason why both seeds and seedpods taste so similar to each other is because of the presence of anethole. Anethole is a flavoring that is licorice-like. It is also found in other plants like caraway and fennel.
Can you use anise seeds as a substitute for star anise? Yes, of course! Use anise seeds to substitute for star anise in your stews and braised food. Is it the closest to star anise.
Biting into anise seeds isn’t pleasant so make sure to skim off the anise seeds before serving the stews. Anise seeds are also a great substitute for star anise in Pho. It’s the number one substitute but if you still don’t have anise seeds for pho, head over to #3.
2. Chinese Five-Spice Powder
Chinese five-spice powder is a great alternative, just like star anise is five-spice is one of the integral parts of Chinese cuisine. This powder is comprised of all 5 flavors – sweet, bitter, salty, sour and umami. It is made of star anise, Chinese cardamom, cloves, fennel seeds and Szechuan peppercorns.
Chinese five-spice powder is a great substitute for star anise because star anise is already present in the powder mix. Use this for rubs on your vegetables and meats.
3. Fennel Seeds
Fennel seeds are a more common home kitchen spice replacement for star anise. The flavors of both aren’t exactly the same but fennel could be a good substitute if you’re only going to use a little or if you’re aiming for only a hint of star anise in the food you’re making.
Fennel seed could be a great substitute for star anise in dishes like salads and dressings for flavoring. Ground-up your fennel seeds just like you would your star anise and mix it in your Asian salad dressing our sauces.
Fennel seed is also the second-best substitute for star anise when making Pho.
Sambuca is an anisette or a liqueur flavored with aniseed that is popular is Europe. Sambuca is very sweet alone and when you take it, it warms up your throat and leaves you with that licorice-like flavor of anise in your mouth – just like star anise. It is star anise on sweetness steroids.
If you’re out of star anise in your cupboard and a bottle of Sambuca is staring at you from across the room, use it! Use a smaller amount of Sambuca in your stews as you would with star anise. Remember that Sambuca is very sweet so don’t put too much. The alcohol will burn but the sweetness together with the aniseed flavor will stay.
Pernod, just like Sambuca is an anisette. If you don’t have star anise and Sambuca lying around the house but Pernod is waving hi at you from the shelf, use it! Both these liqueurs have higher amounts of sugar in them so remember not to use too much.
Allspice is a peppercorn-like spice made from berries. Its flavor is similar to that of cloves, nutmeg and pepper. Allspice is commonly used in the Atlantic region and the Middle East. It is an all-around spice that can be used in desserts, savory food and drinks.
Allspice is great for seasoning meat, sauces, soups, stews and vegetables. It’s a great substitute for star anise because of its robust flavor.
Cloves are an aromatic spice used in dishes to add depth and sweetness. Cloves are usually added to meat, savory food, desserts and some drinks. It has a woody and hard texture that isn’t pleasant to bite into. It is usually removed from the dish before serving or added in powdered form in drinks or desserts.
Since cloves add depth and sweetness to dishes, it’s a good substitute for star anise in sweet recipes like jams, buttercream and sauces. It’s also used to stick them into roasts and some preserved meats.
8. Caraway Seeds
Caraway seeds just like star anise and anise seeds have the same licorice flavor. Caraway seeds are actually the first choice substitute for anise seeds in the west.
It is perfect to use as a substitute for star anise in dessert recipes. You may grind up the caraway seeds to add to your cake batter or steep the seeds in milk to get the sweet flavor profile.
9. Licorice Root
Licorice has been mentioned in this piece probably a million times already. It’s an exaggeration but there’s a reason! Hear us out. The reason is that most of these substitutes have the licorice flavor note that star anise has. Although licorice root isn’t common in your home kitchen, just in case you have it, it’s good to use it.
Licorice root is commonly used in desserts. If you’re making a dessert that requires star anise, use licorice root. You may infuse the root in milks, creams, teas and other liquids to draw out the flavor. If you’re feeling daring, try using licorice root in stews. We saw a recipe online that uses this root with beer in a meat stew!
Cinnamon has a sweet and woody flavor. It is also part of the Chinese five-spice powder that star anise is also part of. Although cinnamon and star anise doesn’t taste the same, it’s a good substitute if you’re just looking to fill in a star anise void in your dish. It could be used as a subtle substitute in savory food or dessert that requires star anise.