Star anise is the fruit of a small evergreen tree native to southwest China. The star-shaped fruits are picked just before ripening and dried before use. They contain the same essential oil as the botanically unrelated Spanish anise seed, which gives the two a nearly identical flavor – strong, sweet, and licoricey.
Whole star anise is used to flavor tea, marinades, and soups. It is integral to the traditional Vietnamese soup pho, and is used in many other Chinese and southeast Asian dishes. Ground star anise, besides being used in baked goods, is a main ingredient in Chinese Five Spice powder.