Sacred & Starry, the anise
A new article in collaboration between altavolo3 and Stir The Flow.
Already known to people such as Egyptians, Romans and Greeks, anise is one of the most ancient and spread spices, among cultures and traditions of the whole world. In medieval times it had already conquered a geographical area ranging from the Mediterranean to Northern Europe, with uses in cooking and pharmacology. Anise was so consumed that the only tolls fixed on the importation of anise seeds were largely used to pay for the repairs of London Bridge at the beginning of 1300. In the nineteenth century it became fashionable to dilute few drops of aniseed with iced water, obtaining a very simple beverage which nevertheless gained a huge approval. Lastly, anise is also among the fundamental ingredients of the liquor symbol of artists, writers, musicians and bohemian intellectuals during the XIX century: absinthe. Every country of the world, and in particular of the Mediterranean area, has invented an exquisite way to interpret the unmistakable intense aroma and sweet taste. We start from Italy with Sambuca and Anisetta to go to Turkey where there is Raki or maybe Ouzo from Greece, Chinchòn from Spain and Pastis from France. The term anise generically indicates a kind of spice which is divided in many varieties. The part used in the three variants (star, peppery and green) is the fruit or the seed, therefore in practice we are talking about the same section of the plant, only with minimal processing and differences.
Star Anise (Illicium Verum)
The evergreen star anise tree or Badiana is native to southwestern China and northeastern Vietnam, it has been cultivated for over 4,000 years and can now be found in India, Laos, Korea, Japan, Taiwan, Cambodia, and the Philippines. The star-shaped fruits are made up of 8-12 carpels or pods, which are dried in the sun, turning a reddish-brown leathery color. The pods contain shiny caramel-colored ovoid seeds inside. Warm and strong, the taste of star anise is intense and sweet, with echoes of tarragon, its aroma is pungent and more intense than normal anise. The compound of anethole which is contained in star anise is also found in anise and licorice. Its sweetness goes wonderfully with pears, figs and tropical fruits.
Star anise is used as a stimulating and stomatical appetizer. It is an excellent digestive, has carminative action, reduces stomach spasms and relaxes it. In very high doses star anise has a narcotic action with memory loss and sensation of drunkenness. It also has a remarkable antiviral action, its active principle is used to create many medicines.
The term “Illicium” comes from the Latin illicio, meaning “to attract”, perhaps thought of the attractive scent the tree gave off. In Persian language star anise is called “badiyan”, from which the French name “badiane” is derived. The edible part is made of anethole, an oily and fragrant essence contained in seeds.
With its grinded peel are prepared incense sticks which are lit in temples in China and especially in Japan, as the plant is considered sacred. Star anise was introduced in Europe from China around the seventeenth century, since then the spice is used whole, coarsely crushed in fragments or reduced to powder.
Green anise or Pimpinella anisum is common in the west, has white/yellow flowers, belongs to the family of magnoliaceae, flowers resemble those of magnolia and bloom in summertime, its taste is reminiscent of fennel. It is also known as common anise or with its scientific name Pimpinella ansium. Like illicium verum, it is a type of Anise, and belongs to the same family of plants. In the same way of star anise it is used in medicine, pharmacy and in enogastronomy for the production of foods, wines, liquors and beverages.
Peppery anise or Xanthoxylum piperitium, native to Korea, Japan and China, is the one having the strongest and spicy taste. Its seeds have a very aromatic taste.
ANISEED COOKIES AND ITALIAN TRADITIONS
In Italy, for example, to compete for the supremacy there are Sardinia, Calabria, Tuscany, with its salty variant, Marches and Sicily. In this last region the above mentioned bakery specialties are called anicini, typical of places such as Monreale and Palermo. Anise cookies are suitable to be served with breakfast, coffee, at tea time, or as a dessert at the end of a meal, maybe with a bitter or a liqueur.
STAR ANISE INFUSION
The liquor produced by this oriental spice is not the only use star anise can boast: star anise infusion is in fact known as a real panacea thanks to its organoleptic properties!
Its preparation is very simple and immediate also by using whole flowers of star anise, which will make your infusion even more intense and pleasant. Put to boil a right quantity of water (usually the quantity of a cup), pay attention to the temperature which must not exceed 80° C (176° F). Once you have reached the suggested temperature, you can infuse 3 grams of product by using filters or tisaniere. Wait just 7 minutes before taking out the star anise flowers Alternatively it is recommended to try the herbal tea with star anise, cinnamon, ginger, honey and lemon.
Enjoy your herbal tea!