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Anise is a plant whose seeds and flowers are both widely used for cooking, native to the eastern Mediterranean region and Southwest Asia. It has a sweet flavour, similar to that of fennel seeds with a slight aftertaste of mint and liquorice. In fact, it belongs to the same aromatic plant group as these products, all of which contain a substance called anethole.
It is a powerful sweetener 13 times stronger than sucrose, without ever being too sickly. It is used to aromatize alcoholic drinks, cakes and pastries and is also employed in food maturing processes and in oral hygiene products.
Here we have a number of delicious anise food pairings, with tips on how to combine the flavour of its seeds with other ingredients in the preparation of some amazing dishes.
Anise and citrus fruits. To confer an intense flavour to one of the most successful Mediterranean winter salads, prepare a dressing by blending extra virgin olive oil, the green tufts of fennel, orange juice, salt and anise seeds. You can add a few crushed anise seeds to any citrus-based dressing or drink.
Anise and pineapple. Anethole enhances the sweetness and the vanilla notes of pineapple; try them together on a pineapple carpaccio or blended together in a sauce for accompanying a fish fillet.
Anise and mint. The aromatic and balsamic notes of mint are strengthened by the sweetness of anise.
Anise and fig, coconut or melon are all very successful pairings. They can be mixed in smoothies, ice-creams and desserts, in jellies or mousses.
Anise and carrot. One of the best pairings, which is probably not one of the most obvious. The sweetness of carrots happily marries that of anise seeds or star anise.
Anise and coffee. Many anise-based liqueurs are served neat with a roasted coffee bean added to the glass.
Anise and goat’s cheese. One of the most successful pairings. Soft goat’s cheese aromatized with oil that has been flavoured in its turn with fennel and liquorice, or combined with preserves containing anise seeds, enhances the flavour of ewe’s milk and mitigates its somewhat “wild” taste.
Anise and seafood. An unusual pairing that is sure to be a winner. The salty taste of seafood is compensated by the sweetness of fennel seeds which recall dill, anise and cumin with hints of liquorice. Ideas for using them? Try adding crushed anise seeds when making up a mayonnaise to accompany your fish dishes.
Anise and lamb. The sweetness of lamb makes a perfect match for anethole. A lamb couscous can be turned into a memorable dish by adding anise seeds to the meat marinade.
Anise and oysters make an extremely refined pairing which combines the flavour of rock pools with a sweet freshness.
Anise ice-cream and candied tomatoes.
Top chefs’ pairings
In the picture above: Les canistrelli à l'anis | Seared Salmon with Anise-Cucumber Salad
One of the best ever interpretations of anise is the Seared Salmon with Anise-Cucumber Salad served up by chef Andrea Reusing at The Durham Hotel in Durham, North Carolina.
Starred chef Koldo Rodero at the Rodero Restaurant in Pamplona has included all the ingredients containing anethole and those that love it in his dish of Oysters with aloe vera, fennel-pineapple cloud and ice-blended anise and lime.
Les canistrelli à l’anis are little biscuits containing "grains d'anis" which are very popular with the French, particularly Alain Ducasse, who has included them in his "Grand Livre de Cuisine Méditerranée". Last but not least, the most original crisps created by chef René Redzepi: Potato crisps with anise and chocolate.
Anise-based dishes work very well when harmoniously paired with any drink or cocktail containing this ingredient. Take for example Sambuca, Mistrà, Absinthe which pops up everywhere in Europe, Anicetta della Sila in Italy, Pastis and Anisette in France, Raki in Turkey, Ouzo in Greece and Arak in the Fertile Half Moon.