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S For Star Anise - The Beautiful Spice

To those who are aware of the spice I am going to talk about today, it is the most beautiful spice I am sure. At least for me this a star-shaped spice is no less than a pleasing wonder as this doesn't appear to be a spice at all. Basically, this start shaped spice is one of the five spices in Chinese five-spice powder. The flavour of this spice is one of the predominant flavors in Vietnamese Pho (a noodle soup), and Sambuca (an Italian liqueur). Yes, you guessed it right, it is Star Anise.

S For Star Anise
S For Star Anise - Vibhu & Me
Spices can be of any shape and size in their originating form, and Star Anise is the second example of it. First is of course Kalpasi. Star anise grows as dark brown pods with eight segments, each containing a pea-sized seed used as spice. The eye catchy spice naively belongs to South Eastern China and commercially grown in China and Vietnam only. It is produced in in Arunachal Pradesh in India also but its production is limited to a small extent. Perhaps the specific agro-climatic conditions required for this crop have prevented its cultivation in other parts of the world despite being so wonderful in looks. Star Anise is extracted from the fruit of tree Illicium verum that is picked before ripening. It is then dried in the sun that makes it become hard enough to be used as a spice. It is during the process of drying when the spice acquires its distinct star like shape. It also acquires reddish-orange color, and a strong aroma while drying. Star anise’s flavor is very distinct. We can call it sweet with a fresh, pleasing aftertastematching to the taste of fennel .

Called Chakari Phool in Hindi, Star Anise is sold whole, in pieces, but also grinded into powder for use. As the production is limited and since it takes a lot of work to gather the spice and keep its shape intact the star anise whole is expensive. Obviously, it is part of Indian Garam Masala and even often used in the meat dishes of Delhi and UP, influenced by Persian cuisine, via the Mughals. However, it is one of those lesser-known spices that people do not give much attention.

History of Star Anise 
Star anise is mentioned in Chinese history for its culinary and medicinal properties. And the Japanese used to burn the aromatic bark of the tree for incense. Star anise started being used in Europe from the 17th century to flavor syrups, cordials and preserves and is still used in western countries today to flavor drinks, chewing gum and confectionery.

Star Anise Plant (Credit: Google Image search)
Ayurvedic Benefits of Star Anise
Star anise is a popular herb used in the Ayurveda medical system and ancient Chinese therapies for centuries. It is prescribed as an excellent digestive aid. It is also used to relieve colic, headache, nausea, vomiting, gastric distress, and to stimulate the appetite. Because of its antibacterial, anti-fungal and expectorant properties, it is widely used in treating coughs, particularly whooping cough, asthma, and bronchitis. Many  Ayurveda texts say that Star Aniseed helps in tackling the mucus accumulation. Star anise is rich in antioxidants and vitamin A and C, which help fight free radicals responsible for early aging and diabetes. It is also a natural flue fighter and wards of fungal infections.

Dadi Maa Ka Nuskha
Consuming star anise infused water after meals helps treat digestive issues such as bloating, gas, indigestion, and constipation.

How to buy
You can buy dried Star Anise, powered form or even Star Anise oil from the market. If in one shop you see the perfect star-shaped Star Anise and in other little broken but comparatively cheaper, then please note that its shape has nothing to do with its sweet aromatic flavor. Go for cheaper  Star Anise.

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