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Anise; star (Illicium Verum)
A spice growing on a bush mainly cultivated in Southern China and Vietnam - but these days unknown in the wild. As depicted by its name, the spice is star-shaped (generally having eight pointed stars, but sometimes twelve carpels). It's always used in its dry state, and has a flavour similar to anise, but stronger. Most imports into Britain come from China, but they always come from Laos, the Philippines and Jamaica.
Star Anise is an ingredient of Chinese 'Five Spice Powder', together with cinnamon, cloves, fennel and Sichuan peppercorns. It's not related to anise, but does taste and smell similar. This is because it contains the same essential oil - anethole.
It makes a delicious addition to spicy fruit compotes.