What Is Anise and How Do I Bake With It?

Have you found yourself looking at a cookbook and thinking, "What is anise, anyway?" Here's what you need to know when a recipe calls for this mystery ingredient.

Herbs and spices can be one of the secret ingredients that will make you a better cook, but they can also be pretty confusing. Every once in a while, you come across a spice that makes you question your entire culinary knowledge base. Like anise: What exactly is it, and can you substitute star anise or fennel if you don’t have any on hand? Find out! By the way, these are the common Indian spices all home cooks should know about.

What is Anise?

Anise (also called aniseed or sweet cumin) is the seed of the Pimpinella anisum plant. It belongs to the Apiaceae family, which also produces carrots, celery and parsley. While the plant’s leaves and roots are also edible, it’s most well-known for its small, brown seeds. They look very similar to fennel seeds, although they are significantly smaller.

The seeds can be used whole, or they can be ground into a powder. They have a sweet, fragrant aroma with a strong, licorice-like taste. It’s that strong flavor that makes anise a love-it-or-hate-it kind of spice. If you’ve ever tasted alcoholic beverages that contain ouzo, sambuca or pastis, you know what I mean! That flavor makes it very versatile, though, as it can be used in savory applications like baking breads or making savory Italian sausage, as well as for baking sweet cookies and cakes.

Are Anise and Fennel the Same Thing?

Anise is commonly confused with two very distinct ingredients: star anise and fennel. The first confusion comes from the similarity in name. Although star anise and aniseed share a common word, they couldn’t be more different. Star anise (Illicium verum) is the fruit of a small evergreen tree in the magnolia family. It’s most often used in Chinese five-spice and while it also has a licorice-like flavor, it’s intense and pungent when compared to aniseed.

Fennel, on the other hand, is often confused with anise because they have similar looking seeds. Like anise, fennel is also from the Apiaceae family, making it related to carrots, dill and anise. Fennel grows into an edible vegetable, and its fronds look almost exactly like dill. The seeds have a sweet, licorice flavor that’s more robust than anise. It’s also a popular component in sausage making, and it’s an integral ingredient in Chinese five-spice blends and chai teas.

How to Bake with Anise

Have some fun with anise’s licorice flavor by making our favorite icebox cookies. If you really want to let the flavor shine, lightly toast the whole aniseed before adding them to the cookie mix. Or, play around with ground anise with this biscotti recipe. If you have anise extract in the pantry, you can also try your hand at making homemade candy.

The Anise Recipes You Have to Try
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Lindsay D. Mattison
Lindsay has been writing for digital publications for seven years and has 10 years of experience working as a professional chef. She became a full-time food writer at Taste of Home in 2023, although she’s been a regular contributor since 2017. Throughout her career, Lindsay has been a freelance writer and recipe developer for multiple publications, including Wide Open Media, Tasting Table, Mashed and SkinnyMs. Lindsay is an accomplished product tester and spent six years as a freelance product tester at Reviewed (part of the USA Today network). She has tested everything from cooking gadgets to knives, cookware sets, meat thermometers, pizza ovens and more than 60 grills (including charcoal, gas, kamado, smoker and pellet grills). Lindsay still cooks professionally for pop-up events, especially if it provides an opportunity to highlight local, seasonal ingredients. As a writer, Lindsay loves sharing her skills and experience with home cooks. She aspires to motivate others to gain confidence in the kitchen. When she’s not writing, you’ll find her cooking with fresh produce from the farmers market or planning a trip to discover the best new restaurants.