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Top Star Anise Substitute


If you’ve ever taken a sip of masala chai or eaten anything with Chinese Five Spice in it, you’ve probably had star anise. For those already familiar with this spice, you’ll know how flavorful (and pretty) it is. 

Instead of stressing when you run out of star anise while cooking, check out the top star anise substitute list below.

star anise laying on white surface with spice bottle next to it

What is Star Anise?

Star anise is a spice that holds a beautiful six or eight-point star shape. It is a dried seed pod from the Illicium Verum tree in China. Its flavor and appearance easily give it away. Star anise is described as having a licorice flavor. It should be no surprise that it’s been found in many Chinese dishes since it originated in China. Initially, people used star anise for medicinal purposes. Now, it is used both for its bioactive compounds and for its taste. It has become a widely consumed spice worldwide.

Star Anise Substitutes and Alternatives

1. Ground Star Anise

If you don’t have whole star anise, you can easily use ground star anise as an alternative. Instead of keeping the spice whole, it has been ground into a fine powder. This is easier to combine into dishes than whole star anise.

You’ll still have the same star anise flavor as the whole spice. This version will mix well into any recipe. While the taste remains the same, keep in mind the ground version has a more intense flavor since it is more concentrated.

Use one-half of the amount that you usually would in your recipe. 

2. Chinese Five Spice Powder

Since Chinese Five Spice powder includes star anise in it and makes a great substitution for star anise. You’ll find a more subtle taste of the spice since it’s combined with cinnamon, cloves, pepper, and fennel. 

This does not mean you won’t be able to taste star anise in this blend at all. It tends to have a more pungent taste than the other included spices, meaning its flavor will be detected in dishes. 

This is not recommended for tea, though you can use it in nearly any savory dish instead of star anise. Expect sweet, warm, and peppery tastes when you incorporate Chinese Five Spice into dishes.

As a substitution, you’ll want to use 1.5 teaspoons of Chinese Five Spice powder for every 2 teaspoons of star anise.

3. Fennel Seeds

Fennel seeds are quite often used as an alternative to star anise when it’s not available. It provides a similar licorice taste as you would find in star anise. 

Here’s a difference, the licorice flavor is much less intense in fennel seeds. There is also a much sweeter taste provided by using fennel seeds. It’s a good substitute in a pinch, though you’ll be able to taste the difference in flavor.

This is a spice that can be used both in sweet and savory dishes. If you were planning to use star anise in a dessert, you could easily swap in fennel seeds. 

As the flavor is more subtle, you’ll want to use 1.5 teaspoons of fennel seeds for each teaspoon of star anise.

4. Caraway Seeds + Tarragon

Caraway seeds and tarragon combine to create the same licorice flavor as star anise. Both caraway seeds and tarragon provide this taste, while caraway is the reason for spiciness and nuttiness. This combination offers an unexpected yet great alternative to star anise.

You will find caraway seeds to provide a peppery taste. There is also bitterness and intense flavor that occurs in each spice, especially in caraway. Due to the strong taste, you should start with a lower amount of seasoning and gradually increase it to your preferred amount.

Use this combination for savory dishes only. The bitterness does not work well with sweet dishes. Most often, these two spices are used in curries and soups, among other meals.

Combine caraway seeds and tarragon equally to make ½ teaspoon as a replacement for each teaspoon of star anise.

5. Whole Cloves

You can easily use whole cloves instead of star anise. It provides warmth to dishes which is similar to star anise. It also adds sweetness and a bitter taste which matches the notes of star anise. Cloves provide a woodiness and pleasant fragrance to meals.

Whole cloves are ideal for use in jams, preserves, or similar gel fruit products. Due to its bitter taste, you’ll want to avoid dishes where the cloves are not strained out. Hence why they work well in compotes. 

You can use whole cloves in a 1:1 ratio.

6. Ground Cloves

Ground cloves are the same as whole cloves, except they are pulverized into a powder form. You’ll encounter the same flavor notes and tastes that you would with whole cloves. If you’re seeking a sweeter flavor for your savory dishes, use ground cloves.

This is an excellent substitute for seasoning meat, curries, and sauces. If you want a more robust flavor in your dishes, opt for whole cloves and grind them at home as needed. Ground cloves can lose their taste quickly as they are dried flowers.

When using ground cloves, add ½ teaspoon for each teaspoon of star anise.

7. Licorice Root

Surprisingly, licorice root has quite a subtle flavor. This is a good choice if you intend to replace the licorice flavor in your dishes that star anise provides typically. Licorice root also provides sweetness and bitterness to each meal it’s included in. 

Licorice root can be used as a dried powder or even as a tea. It’s a great way to add flavor to masala chai if you’re out of star anise. In its powder form, it can be used to season meat or in desserts. 

This root can be found fresh or dried in stores. Use it fresh for drinks and dried for recipes.

For each teaspoon of star anise, use one teaspoon of licorice root as a replacement.

8. Cinnamon

If you’re only looking to replace the sweetness and spiciness that star anise provides, you can swap it with cinnamon. While it lacks the licorice taste, it does offer a woody flavor and aromatics to dishes. 

You can use Cinnamon in most recipes, even savory dishes. Most people only consider using it in sweet treats, though it adds a nice contrast to soups, lamb, and chicken. It even works well in drinks, so it’s perfect for teas that are usually spiced with star anise.

Cinnamon can be found as a powder or in stick form. Choose cinnamon sticks for drinks and powder for all other recipes.

To use this as a substitute for star anise, you’ll want to use a 2:1 ratio.

What is the flavor of star anise?

As noted above, most people describe star anise as having a licorice flavor as the first detected taste. It is also sweet, spicy, and nutty.

Can I substitute anise for star anise?

Yes, you can use anise seed instead of star anise seeds and pods. The appearance is different, as well as some of the flavor notes. However, both will offer a licorice taste to any dish. Anise is noted as tasting spicier than star anise.

Summary

You can avoid the panic that sets in when you see an empty bottle on your counter by using the above substitutes for star anise. When searching for the best alternative for star anise, opt for Chinese Five Spice as your first choice. Since the additional spices bode well with star anise in the spice mixture, it will easily complement savory dishes. Whole cloves are the best option for sweets and drinks due to their sweetness and warmth. 

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