Posted in Kafevend Blog
Anise, or Pimpinella anisum, is native to the regions around the Levantine Sea, the eastern most part of the Mediterranean. Ancient Egyptians cultivated the plant, and it was mentioned in writing by Virgil, Dioscorides and Pliny the Elder. During the Middle Ages cultivation of anise spread further west into Europe, and for a long time has been used by countries like France to produce potent alcoholic spirits such as absinthe.
The flavour found in anise is due to the chemical anethole, which makes up almost all of the essential oil contents found in the seeds (or fruit). Anethole is also present in fennel and to a smaller extent liquorice, which is why they share similar flavours. The other plant that features the chemical is the unrelated but similarly named star anise, illicium verum, which is native to the area around southern China and Vietnam. Whilst anise could be used in Masala Chai, it is the eastern star anise that is used in the spice mix in India rather than the western anise.
Alongside their use in drinks of varying potency, anise and star anise have other culinary uses. In Britain, anise has been used to flavour sweets like aniseed balls and aniseed twists. Countries like Germany use anise as a flavouring in cakes, harking back to its use in the spiced cakes made by the ancient Romans. Star anise sees a lot of use in Asian cuisine in countries like India, China and Indonesia.
Of course, both have a selection of attributed medical properties. Whilst star anise is good for easing joint pain and aiding digestion (not necessarily at the same time), anise is useful for curing bad coughs and combatting flatulence. As ever, please don't take my word for any of this.