As the name suggests, star anise is a star-shaped fruit of small tree usually found in oriental regions such as China and Japan. Their colour ranges from brownish to rusty, and have a hard, tough skin. The fruit is picked from the tree before it ripens, after which it is dried, giving us star anise as we know it. You can either buy them whole or ground.
Even though star anise is native to China and Vietnam, today, it is extensively grown, almost exclusively, in countries like India, Japan and southern China. It is important to note that star anise is different from Japanese star anise, which is highly toxic and not meant for consumption.
Star anise has a distinct, intense flavour which is best described as sweet and spicy. However, it is often a bit more bitter than Spanish anise. It is commonly used in Chinese cuisine as a flavouring agent, especially in savoury dishes such as confectionaries and sweetmeats. It is also commonly used in pork, beef, chicken and duck dishes. The Chinese like to add star anise in their soups as well. The spice is also used in the West, where it is mostly added in jams and fruit compotes.