Star Anise vs. Anise Seed: How Are They Different?

These two spices are often mistaken for each other, but they couldn't be more different.

what is star anise

Michelle Arnold/EyeEm/Getty Images

These two spices may both be called anise and have a licorice-like flavor, but the similarities stop there. Star anise and anise seed are derived from completely different plants on opposite sides of the world, and while they can be substituted for each other, there are some key differences to watch out for. Below, we explain the differences between star anise and anise seed to help you navigate your spice cabinet.

What Is Star Anise?

Star anise comes from the fruit of the Chinese evergreen tree, which is found in Southeast Asia. It's named for the unique star-shaped pods from which the spice is derived. Each pod contains one seed and both the seed and pod are used in cooking. The essential oil anethole gives star anise its characteristic licorice-like flavor, and is much more bitter than anise seed. You can find star anise whole and ground in the spice aisle.

What Is Anise Seed?

Anise seed is believed to have been first cultivated in Egypt and the eastern Mediterranean. It's derived from the anise plant, a herb in the parsley family that's native to that region. The seeds are small and oblong, similar to fennel seeds. Like star anise, anise seed also gets its licorice-like flavor from anethole, but it's a much tamer flavor. Anise seed is often used in liqueurs, like ouzo, and both sweet and savory recipes.

How to Use Star Anise

Star anise is often used in Chinese cooking and is an ingredient in Chinese five-spice powder. Its bitter flavor lends itself well to spice blends like Five-Spice Powder and garam masala. Star anise can be used whole or crushed to help its aromatic licorice flavor emerge. It's used in popular dishes like biryani, stews, curries, broths, and more. It is also used to flavor pho broth. It can be used in both sweet and savory dishes.

Star anise is thought to have some antiviral, anti-fungal, and antibacterial properties. However, the amount of star anise used in a typical dish probably isn't enough to get rid of that pesky cold.

How to Use Anise Seed

Anise seed is primarily used to flavor baked goods such as Italian biscotti, pies and candies. It’s also sometimes used to season savory foods like Italian sausage. Commercially, anise seed is used for a number of products—soaps, skin creams, and mouth fresheners, to name a few. Anise seed extract can also be added to drinks to add its signature licorice flavor.

Like star anise, anise seed may have some health-boosting side effects when consumed regularly in large amounts.

Substitutes for Star Anise and Anise Seed

Their similar licorice-like flavor makes these two natural substitutes for each other. However, because star anise has a much stronger flavor, you'll need to halve the amount when substituting it for anise seed. Likewise, use twice as much anise seed when substituting for star anise. You can also use extracts to add licorice flavor to baked goods and in recipes.

While star anise's flavor profile is more bitter than anise seed, their signature licorice flavor will come through no matter which one you use. When in doubt, fennel makes a great substitute for either of these spices.

Where to Buy Star Anise and Anise Seed

You can buy star anise and anise seed at your local grocery store. If you can’t find them there, check a specialty grocery store. Mediterranean grocery stores may to carry anise seed, and any Asian supermarket will likely stock star anise.

Once you’ve purchased these spices, keep them in a cool, dry place to make the most out of their shelf life. Stored this way, they can keep well for three to four years. If you open the spices and they don't smell strongly or the flavor is weak, it's a good idea to replace them.

Was this page helpful?
Related Articles