If a recipe calls for star anise, the dish likely depends on its unique flavors to complete the overall flavor. So, skipping star anise from the recipe may not be recommended. However, there will be times when you don’t have star anise on hand or it may be unavailable in the store.
What will you do then? The best solution is to find the closest alternative to star anise that encompasses its distinctive flavor. Fortunately, this guide lists the top 5 substitutes for star anise.
Before going over the list, you will also learn a thing or two about star anise and its flavor profile. In this way, you will know what to look for when finding a substitute. Whether you are making a sweet or savory dish, the list below contains the best star anise substitutes worth trying.
First, What Is Star Anise?
The star anise tree, Illicium verum, is an Asian evergreen that grows in China, India, and Vietnam, to name a few. It grows star-shaped pericarps with six to eight pods containing one seed in each pod. These star-shaped pericarps are called star anise, star aniseed, Chinese star anise, or staranise.
Star anise tree
Its exterior is reddish brown and has a hard and rough texture. You can buy this spice in whole or ground form in the spice section of a grocery store or your local Asian supermarket. With star anise, you can cook it in the following ways:
- Spice ingredient to make Chinese five-spice powder and garam masala
- Soups, stews, and stir-fried dishes
- Slow-cooked meats and marinades
- Indian food like biryani and curry
- Baked goods like cookies and cakes
- Herbal teas and drinks
- Noodle soup like Vietnamese Pho and Taiwanese Beef Noodle Soup
- Make red braised pig trotter (pigs feet)
Taste And Smell Of Star Anise
The one thing to look for in star anise is its licorice-like taste. The aromatic compound that is responsible for its licorice-like taste is anethole. When the seeds in the pods are crushed or cooked, they release a strong flavor and aroma.
The aroma can also be described as warm and sweet with a touch of woodiness. Overall, the taste you are going for should be licorice-like, warm, sweet, and woody when finding an alternative to star anise. The alternatives to use with similar tastes are outlined below.
The 5 Star Anise Substitutes
1. Anise Seeds
You might think anise seeds are the same as star anise, but they are actually completely different and come from two different plants. If star anise comes from the plant Illicium verum, anise seeds are produced from a flowering plant called Pimpinella anisum. Anise seeds are small seeds that are oblong-shaped, dry, and grayish brown.
Despite their contrasts in appearance, anise seeds are similar to star anise because of their licorice-like taste. However, the licorice-like flavor of anise seeds is milder than star anise. To use anise seeds, replace one whole star anise with 1/2 teaspoon of anise seeds.
2. Chinese Five Spice
Chinese five spice (五香粉) is a traditional Chinese powder made from five different spices: Star anise (八角), Chinese cinnamon (肉桂), Fennel seeds (小茴香), Szechuan peppercorns (花椒), and Cloves (丁香). The powder gives you a combination of five flavors: sweet, sour, salty, savory, and bitter. If you noticed, the powder already has star anise and fennel seeds, both of which have a licorice-like taste.
The flavor profile may not be exactly the same, but it will surely give your dish a hint of licorice taste. Swap one whole star anise with 1/2 teaspoon of Chinese five spice powder. Adjust to taste according to your desired flavor.
Allspice comes from the plant Pimenta dioica. It is a brown, dried, and unripe fruit of the tree that is turned into whole peppercorns or its ground form. Its aroma is pungent, warm, and spicy.
It provides a mix of flavors similar to nutmeg, cloves, ginger, pepper, and cinnamon flavors. Although it does not have a strong licorice taste like anise seeds or Chinese five spice powder, it does give you that unique and pleasantly warm and woody flavor of star anise. You can use a 1:1 ratio for all allspice and star anise and add a little bit of sugar for a touch of sweetness like star anise.
4. Fennel Seeds
Fennel seeds are produced from the plant Fennel or Foeniculum vulgare and are described as dried, oval seeds with a pale green to tan color. It has a sweet and warm taste and notes of licorice like star anise. However, the flavor is not as strong as star anise and leans more toward earthy, bold, and zesty flavors.
It is still an excellent alternative for its hint of licorice taste and can work well with most recipes. If using one teaspoon of ground star anise, swap it with 1/4 teaspoon of fennel seeds. For one whole star anise, substitute it with 1/4 teaspoon of fennel seeds as well.
Cloves come from an evergreen tree called Syzygium aromaticum from the Myrtaceae family. Take note these are different from your typical garlic cloves. Cloves are reddish brown and have a round head and thin tail.
It incorporates sweet, spicy, woody, and warm flavors into a dish. You can use whole or ground cloves to substitute with star anise using a 1:1 ratio. To make it more like star anise, mix 1/2 teaspoon of ground cloves with 1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon and swap it with one whole star anise or 1/2 teaspoon of ground star anise.
All of the alternatives mentioned above are excellent in replicating the taste of star anise. They may not be exactly the same as star anise, but they can provide you with the unique flavors of star anise. You can simply play around with the amount needed and adjust with other seasonings as needed.
If you enjoyed this spice guide, I recommend reading my other guides like 5 Best Chinese Five Spice Substitutes and All Spice Vs Five Spice Vs Cloves. Follow Kitchen Misadventures on Instagram and TikTok for more informative guides and delicious recipes worth trying.