Boasting a licorice-like flavor, anise is the dried ripe fruit of the herb Pimpinella anisum. An annual grown from seed, the plant reaches two to three feet in height. The flavor, which is similar to fennel, but somewhat sweeter, resides in its crescent-shaped seeds. Anise is sold as whole seed or ground.
If you’ve ever tasted Italian biscotti with a hint of licorice to it, then you know how wonderful anise is in baked goods. Anise almond biscotti, glazed anise cookies, and pfeffernuesse are additional examples of baked goods where this flavor plays a starring role. But anise also livens up soups, pork rubs and all kinds of pickles. Sprinkle it on bread dough, together with sesame and poppy seeds just before baking a batch of breadsticks.
Anise seed is indigenous to the Eastern Mediterranean—Greece and Turkey. Turkish anise is most highly prized for its full flavor, bold appearance and higher content of volatile oils. In that part of the world, the seed is used to flavor famous alcoholic beverages such as Greek Ouzo, French Pernod, Italian Sambuka, and Turkish Raki.
BELIEVE IT…OR NOT
In first-century Rome, anise was used to flavor a popular spice cake, baked in bay leaves, that was said to prevent indigestion. The ancient Roman naturalist Pliny the Elder also claimed that anise seed placed under the pillow would prevent bad dreams. The English had other ideas! In 1305, they collected a toll on anise seed to fund repairs to the London Bridge. A century later, Britain’s King Edward IV used anise to perfume his clothing. Today whole anise seeds are brewed as a flavorful tea that is thought to aid in digestion.
Glazed Anise Cookies
Three Seed Breadsticks