Anise extract is a tincture of either anise or star anise, and is often used as a flavoring in cooking. It has a strong, slightly sweet licorice flavor due to the presence of an aromatic compound known as anethole, which is also found in fennel, tarragon and licorice itself. Most varieties of anise extract are pure and made with all natural ingredients, although some may contain artificial licorice flavoring. It is popular in baked goods from around the world, and is also sometimes used to flavor liquor and herbal liqueurs.
Despite the similar names and flavor profiles of anise and star anise, the plants are unrelated. Anise, also known as aniseed, is an annual herb of the Apiaceae family, which also includes the aromatic plants cumin, carrot, celery, dill, and fennel. Star anise, also called Chinese star anise, is a spice rather than an herb, and is harvested from the fruits of evergreen trees. The seeds and leaves of the herb anise are used in cooking, while the spice star anise, with its distinctive eight-pointed star shape, is often used whole or ground. Both the herb and the spice contain the compound anethole, which gives them their characteristic licorice flavor.
Pure anise extract is usually sold as a tincture, a liquid extract using alcohol as a solvent. It is made by extracting the essential oils of anise or star anise through a process known as absorption. Absorption is one of the simplest extraction techniques, involving steeping anise or star anise in alcohol to release the flavor. A simple method of making anise extract at home involves filling a canning jar with anise seeds or whole star anise pods and then filling the jar with a clear, high-proof alcohol like vodka. The solution may be sealed and left to steep for as long as three months in a cool, dark place.
In baking, this flavoring is frequently used in cookies. Some examples of cookies that have anise flavoring are springerle and Pfeffernusse from Germany, pizelle from Italy, and picarones from Peru. Anise is also a popular flavoring for biscotti. Many types of liquor or herbal liqueur also contain some anise extract, such as absinthe and sambuca.
Anise oil, anise seeds, or star anise pods may be substituted for the extract when none is at hand. The essential oil is purer than the extract, as anise extract typically contains about 70% alcohol. A cook substituting anise oil for extract will want to compensate for the stronger flavor of the oil by using about an eighth of a teaspoon of oil for every teaspoon of extract. Dried anise seeds or star anise pods are less potent than extract, so a cook substituting seeds or pods should use about two teaspoons of ground anise seed or star anise pods per teaspoon of extract.