Latin name: Pimpinella anisum
Other names: aniseed
Uses: spice, confections, alcohol

Anise seeds look like that of their carrot-family (Apiaceae) relatives — they’re basically smaller, browner fennel seed, sometimes with little pedicels (flower stems) still attached. But they deserve their own place in your spice rack — especially if you cook Mediterranean, Indian, or Chinese dishes. Buy whole anise seeds from a reputable spice shop and store in an airtight container in a cool, dry place (not above your stove) for up to four years.

Why is anise healthy?

High in B-complex vitamins and minerals like iron, potassium, calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, copper, and manganese, anise has been used traditionally to relieve asthma, bronchitis, menopause symptoms, and all manner of digestive and gastric issues from bloating to nausea.

What does anise taste like?

Anise has a distinct black licorice flavor that can be polarizing — people generally either love it or hate it. This flavor comes from the aromatic compound anethole (named for anise), which is also found in fennel (a close relative) and star anise, but also in basil and tarragon. It’s less woody/piney than fennel or star anise; it’s warm-spicy and very sweet — thanks to anethole, which is 13 times sweeter than sugar.

Where does anise grow?

Anise is native to Egypt and was first cultivated there and in the Middle East, but it’s been used throughout the Mediterranean since antiquity. Today it’s grown throughout southern and southeastern Europe, the Middle East, North Africa, South Asia, China, and North America.

How do I prepare anise and what do I pair it with?

Anise seeds can be used whole or crushed in a mortar and pestle, and even if you don’t like licorice, you’ve probably enjoyed both sweet and savory foods containing anise without even knowing it. It’s a potent and versatile spice that’s as equally at home in a cookie as it is in a curry.

Anise pairs beautifully with carrots and other spices in its family (cumin, fennel, ajwan, caraway, coriander), and it’s a common ingredient in curry spice blends and Chinese five-spice powder. It’s a wonderful temper against brown and bitter flavors like grilled onions, toasted walnuts, and coffee (add a splash of Raki in your coffee sometime, or dip in an anise biscotti), and it loves almonds, figs, honey, and butter.

Surprising fact:

If you’ve ever had a cup of chai or taken a handful of the tiny, brightly colored candies at the end of your meal at an Indian restaurant then you probably experienced less gas after your dal. Anise has been used since ancient times for its carminative (fart-reducing) benefits and to aid digestion; it’s also an ingredient in the German digestif Underberg, and why anise liquors are sipped after meals throughout the Mediterranean region.