Star anise, also known as Chinese star anise or badian, is a spice that comes from the fruit of the Illicium verum tree. It is native to Southwest China, and is primarily grown in China, Japan, and Vietnam. It has a strong, distinct liquorice flavour, with hints of sweetness and a slight spiciness.
When used as a botanical in distilled spirit distillation, star anise imparts a unique liquorice and sweet flavour to the spirit. The key flavour compound found in star anise is (E)-anethole, which makes up 71.2-91.8% of its essential oil. This compound is responsible for the liquorice flavour and aroma of the star anise. Foeniculin is another compound found in star anise which contributes to the anise-like flavour and aroma. Estragole, another compound found in star anise, imparts a slight sweetness and a slight spicy flavour to the distilled spirit. Limonene and linalool are also found in star anise and add a hint of lemon and floral notes to the distilled spirit.
When used as a botanical in gin distillation, star anise can pair well with a variety of other botanicals such as juniper, coriander, angelica, and cardamom. Its liquorice flavour can complement the piney, earthy flavour of juniper, and its sweetness can balance out the spiciness of coriander and cardamom. Its unique flavour can also add depth and complexity to a gin, making it stand out from other traditional gin flavours.
A great pairing for Star Anise when used as a botanical in gin distillation is Cardamom, these two botanicals complement each other well and create a harmonious balance of flavours. The liquorice and sweet notes of star anise, along with the slight spiciness, balance out the warm, sweet, and slightly minty flavour of cardamom. This combination can add depth and complexity to the gin, with a hint of sweetness and a subtle warming sensation on the palate.
In history, star anise has been used for centuries in traditional Chinese medicine and cooking. It was first mentioned in Chinese texts dating back to the Han Dynasty (206 BC-220 AD) and has been used to treat a variety of ailments such as digestive issues, respiratory problems, and colds. It was also used to flavour teas and in traditional Chinese dishes such as Peking duck. Today, it is a common ingredient in Chinese, Vietnamese, and Japanese cuisine, and is also used in the production of liqueurs, such as absinthe and pastis, and in the production of the popular drink, ouzo.