What is Anise Extract?
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.
I have never been the biggest anise fan. I know that some people love that taste, and I guess it's OK, but why on earth would you go with anise extract over something as great as peppermint extract? Or almond extract or vanilla extract or all the other lovely extracts that they have out there.
I guess that anise always tasted too much like herbs, too medicinal for me. What about you guys, are you anise fans, or can you live without it?
So how do you make anise extract? Is it even possible to make this at home? I am really curious about this, since I remember a friend of mine growing up had a mom who was just famous in our neighborhood for her anise and almond cookies, and she would always tell the other moms that the secret was that she made her own anise extract.
Is there a recipe out there for things like that, and can anyone share one with me? I have recently started getting into baking myself, and would be really interested in trying to replicate her success.
I've never made my own extracts before, but I love using them to flavor my pastries, so this would be a great project for me. I do have a sort of basic idea on how herbal extracts and tinctures in general are made, so I'm hoping that making anise extract will follow something along the same lines...
It may not seem like such a huge leap to go from anise to licorice, but believe me, if you ever taste the real thing (real licorice, that is), you will really be able to tell the difference.
My grandmother was a die hard candy maker, and she especially loved making licorice all sorts. I still remember the day when the grocery store near our house stopped stocking actual licorice extract and only had anise seed extract -- she was so upset!
She actually ended up buying licorice extract over the internet, and I have to say that I'm glad she did. Once you get used to that real licorice taste, it's really hard to go back!
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