The seed of the anise plant is the spice used as Anise. It is an oval seed, somewhat grey-green and brown in colour. Anise is member of the Umbelliferae family, the members of which include parsley, caraway, dill, cumin, and fennel.
Anise is a native of Egypt, Greece, Crete and Asia Minor and was cultivated by the ancient Egyptians. There is written evidence to prove that anise was used in Egypt as early as 1500BC, making it one of the oldest known spice plants used for both culinary and medicinal purposes. It was well known to the Greeks, being mentioned by Dioscorides and Pliny and was cultivated in Tuscany in Roman times. In the Middle Ages its cultivation spread to Central Europe.
The word Anise evolved from the Arabic word anysum. It is also obviously related to the Greek word anison and the Latin word anisun.
The cultivation of the anise plant goes back 4000 years. While the plant grows wild in Egypt today, its origins have also been traced to the same country. Anthologies of medicinal plants dating back to Pharaonic Egypt define the use of the spice as a diuretic and a remedy for different digestive problems, and also a means to ease toothache and pain.
The tradition of using Anise medicinally continued with the Ancient Greeks. Dioscorides (1st century AD) believed that Anise was a warming food that enabled easy respiration and cleared nasal and bronchial passages of accumulated, dried mucus. He also believed it to be a pain reliever and a remedy that eased the passage of urine.
The Mustacae cake, was probably a precursor to the modern western wedding cake and was served by the ancient Romans. This was made of flour and meal, and was flavoured with Anise and Cummin amongst other flavourings. Served at the end of a rich meal or a wedding feast, it was meant to be an aid to digestion.
As in the case of many spices, Anise was also used as a means of paying taxes or even as a mode of exchange. This would be a result of their high value, especially in an age where their transportation was difficult and hazardous. The 23rd chapter of St. Matthew, in the Bible mentions this. In 1305, anise was listed by King Edward I as a taxable drug, and merchants bringing it to London paid a toll to help raise money to maintain and repair London Bridge.
Anise is used in western cooking mostly to flavour confectionery and sweets. In European cooking, the seed is also used to flavour baked goods notably German Rye Bread. The flavour from anise seeds is the "real" liquorice flavour and is used to flavour liquorice sweets. Other seeds such as fennel are ascribed the taste, but anise provides the most genuine liquorice profile.
Unlike in Europe, anise is used in savoury Indian food. It is famously part of the Bengali Panchphoran spice mixture and is often substituted in this mixture in place of fennel seeds. Anise is also a very prominent flavour in Kashmiri food. It provides a distinct flavour to vegetarian and meat dishes and is also used in leavened bread preparations like Khameeri roti and puri.
Quick Serving Ideas
- Use a small amount to flavour meat and poultry. Half a teaspoon is generally enough to flavour a dish for four people. Anise can be used either whole or ground.
- Rub ground anise under the skin of a chicken before roasting it. This will give it an unusual elegant taste.
- Ground anise may be added to cake flour to flavour the eventual product.
- Anise may also be added to fruit salads that are composed largely of berries.
- Ground anise may also be sprinkled on grilled seafood.
Anise is a rich source of cancer-preventing coumarin compounds, which are the primary components in anise's relatively high concentration of volatile oils.
Anise is also mildly estrogenic, though less so than fennel.
Anise is well known as an anti flatulent. An infusion of anise helps remedy minor digestive imbalances. Used traditionally as a cough reliever and a palliative for chest infections, its flavour is often recognised in branded lozenges. The fumes from smoked anise are said to help clear the nasal passages and the chest of accumulated mucus.
The volatile oil of Anise is the flavour and basis for the liqueur Anisette. This is also said to be helpful for bronchitis and spasmodic asthma. A mixture of Anisette and hot water is said to provide instant relief from spasmodic coughs.
In India, a decoction is also used for infants both as a digestive and also for infantile catarrh. Anise seeds are also eaten after meals to aid digestion and all Indian households offer plain or candied anise.
How to Select and Store
Anise seed is available dry as whole or ground seed. Whole is preferred as many of the volatile oils as quickly lost after the seed is ground.
- Larousse Gastronomique
- The Book of Ingredients, Philip Dowell and Adrian Bailey; Penguin/ Mermaid Books 1993
- The Encyclopaedia of Healing Foods; Dr. Michael Murray, Dr. Joseph Pizzorno with Lara Pizzorno; Time Warner Books
- Encyclopedia of Spices
- Anise Seed
- Herbs 2000.com