Oh, this is a lovely flavour. Aniserich and redolent. It fills the mouth with sweet spice and sensuality. Its flavour is somewhere along the licorice line with a dash of malabar pepper corns or something equally exotic.
I am partial to anise. It is the flavour of such sublimely potent beverages as pastis, arrack and ouzo. It is the hidden taste that is barely noticed in fresh Italian sweet sausage. A little bit transforms simple desserts such as apple pie and fruit compote into something out of the ordinary. It is as common in curries as it is in flavoured mints.
Anise is part of the parsley family, although we usually use the leaves of parsley and the seeds of the anise plant. Like parsley, many cultures chew anise seeds to ease the discomfort of too heavy a meal. It is common to see them among the dish of digestive spices offered in most Indian restaurants. If you want to use them in this manner, try roasting these small comma shaped seeds just a little to bring out the flavour.
The most common variety of this spice is Spanish anise seed. This is similar to fennel, which has a milder flavour, as well as caraway and tarragon. Star anise, however, with which anise seed is often confused, is shaped like a star and is in fact a dried fruit. It is common in oriental cooking and it is not related to anise seed. However, each contains the essential oil anethol which gives them their distinctive flavours.
A simple way to use anise is to leave it in a covered dish of sugar for a few days and let the flavour infuse it. Like vanilla sugar, this can be used in baking, whipped cream and desserts.
A simple anise-flavoured fruit compote can be made by boiling three cups of water with a cup of anise sugar. Add a dash of vanilla extract. When the sugar dissolves, add three or four peaches that have been peeled and quartered. (Peel the fruit by immersing them first for a 10 seconds in boiling water. Take them out and immerse them in cool water. The skin should slip off easily). Simmer the fruit in the syrup until it is soft but not mushy (about 10 minutes). Let it cool in the syrup, then remove the fruit and boil the syrup until it thickens. Pour it over the fruit and let this chill in the refrigerator before serving.