It is a Chinese spice and representing the aromatic flavour of Chinese cuisine. Naturally, it is a flower pod which dried under the hot sun before it has fully ripened. The unique and beautiful spice, It shapes like the star, a complete eight horns stretch out from the centre. Each carpel carries a seed inside, light brown oval shape. The profile of Star Anise is a combination of fennel and anise, sweet aromatic. It is an essential flavour in all Chinese kitchen.
The next idea came to my mind is Chinese Five Spice, the lovely spice mix. The traditional spice blends in our modern cuisine. Star Anise plays a significant aroma in Chinese Five Spice. Without Star Anise, Chinese Five Spice will never be its original. That is the reason I said it is “The Chinese Spice”. We can get it easily in a general grocery shop nowadays. Many difference type of branding and authentication, quite a headache sometimes to select the best Chinese Five Spice.
Now, I blend my spice mix. Along the mixing quest, I discovered many possibilities of doing it. This spice blend has a combination of five basic grounded spices, Cinnamon, Star Anise, Cloves, Fennel and Szechuan pepper. Some versions are more than five type of spices, depending on personal preference, nutmeg, mace and white pepper. All these are pairing amazingly to increase the flavour complexity, but I prefer to the original five.
When I blend the Chinese Five Spice, I always remembered my taste of childhood, my favourite dish, “Pineapple chicken”. My grandmother used to plug a juicy pineapple from the house backyard and cooked with the leftover chicken. I was trying to resemble that recipe quite a few times, but the outcome was not the one I remembered.
Finally, I successfully cooked the dish with an added Star Anise and Chinese Five Spice. Leftover chicken marinated with Chinese Five Spice and 2-3 pods Star Anise add into cooking. The flavour of Pineapple Chicken twisted beyond my words can describe, a mouth-watering dish, serve with white rice.
This Chinese New Year comes early. I believe that Star Anise will be the magic spice again in many Chinese kitchens, the secret ingredient! I wish to share some of my records about the Star Anise.
How to select the right Star Anise?
The best Star Anise is light brown to dark brown. 8 carpels with a seed inside each. Size in between 2-3cm. The best harvest is the autumn crops. As far as my search until now, natural treated Vietnamese Star Anise is the best. Good spices require a proper care harvest and handling so that the aromatic property is reserved.
In the local market, we will always get the lower quality. I manage to differentiate the grade of Star Anise after many years of experience in spice trading. I strongly advise not to use this category. It is unbelievable cheap. The colour is abnormal. It smells stinky. At least a seed must be inside one of the pods. If you can not find a single seed, the Star Anise is unadulterated.
Furthermore, the Star Anise will not turn into an unacceptable black colour; it only happens if bad harvest, the crops went bad or not properly handled. If we are looking for Star Anise grounded, purchase from your trusted supplier. The untrusted source is risky. We do not know the purity and grade. Try to avoid from the unknown seller.
My spice checklist, I will check the spices from a few parts, physical appearance, aroma, taste and flavour. I am pretty sure that you will able to find out the different. Enjoy the spices adventure! I wish that my notes are helpful to you or whoever has an interest in cooking and spices.