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What is Anisette?

By N. Swensson
Updated May 16, 2024
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Anisette is a liqueur made from anise seeds. It is generally sweet, with a flavor most similar to black licorice. Although different types of this anise liqueur can be purchased in many parts of the world, it originated in France and is also popular in Mediterranean countries, including Italy, Spain, and Greece. It can be served in a variety of ways, diluted with water or added to other mixed drinks, or straight, sometimes as an after-dinner drink. Anisette was originally produced to replace absinthe, another alcoholic beverage made from anise seed that has a higher alcohol content and has been banned for sale in some parts of the world. Some popular brands of anisette liqueur include Sambuca, Marie Brizard, and Ouzo, and it can be purchased for as little as $10 US Dollars (USD).

Anisette is made from the seeds of the anise plant, which is a member of the parsley family and grows naturally in the Mediterranean. The liqueur is most often clear, although different varieties of Sambuca can be yellow, red, or green. When served diluted with water, it can take on a whitish, milky appearance.

To make anisette, a variety of plants and seeds are first macerated, or soaked, in a combination of neutral spirit and sugar syrup. It is then distilled until it reaches about 25 percent alcohol by volume, although some varieties contain a higher percentage of alcohol. The sweetness and lower alcohol content can give this anise liqueur a smooth, sweet taste that makes it popular as an after-dinner drink.

There are a variety of ways to serve anisette. Some people drink it straight, at room temperature, while others prefer it chilled or served over ice. Still others mix it with water, and it is used in a number of different mixed drinks, including the Dubonnet royal and Russian roulette. Sometimes, coffee is flavored with the sweet-tasting spirit. Owing to its high sugar content, it can also be used to make cookies and biscotti.

Anisette was originally created as a replacement for absinthe, another anise liqueur with a much higher alcohol content. Absinthe was banned from sale in much of the world because it was thought to cause hallucinations, although research has shown that it may not actually affect the brain in this way. In the 1990s, absinthe production began again in some parts of the world, and a number of varieties are now available for purchase.

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Discussion Comments

By anon975655 — On Oct 28, 2014

According to one Anisette producer, while some anise based liquers contain licorice root, Anisette does not contain licorice, so it is free of licorice side effects.

By popcorn — On Aug 04, 2011

Does anyone know if drinking anisette has any of the benefits or side effects of actually eating anise seeds?

Anise has been widely used for years to help things like stomach problems and as a natural medicine for congestion. Unfortunately anise seeds are also a bad idea for those who have high blood pressure as it has been known to make the problem worse.

I am really looking to experiment with some more international drinks but have found myself really curious about the ingredients being used. After reading up on on anise and learning there was a popular drink made with the seed it has really made me interested in trying it. I guess I secretly hope it will have some benefits.

By wander — On Aug 04, 2011

Has anyone ever tried gum drop shots?

They are little drinks that are really rich but go down smoothly. They do taste good but be warned they are pretty heavy on the alcohol content. I was originally attracted to this shot because of its name and the fact that I absolutely love gum drops. So much so, that I keep batches of them hidden around the house and at work.

A gum drop shot contains 1 dark creme de cacao and 1 part anisette. If you really want to make the flavor of the gum drop shot even more intense you can make some changes by using Sambuca in place of the anisette and Godiva chocolate liqueur in place of the creme de cacao.

By B707 — On Aug 03, 2011

It was interesting to read that in some parts of the world, absinthe is starting to be manufactured and sold again. I wonder how it came to be banned worldwide without any real research, only observation and anecdotes that it caused hallucinations?

I know that when I visited Montmartre in Paris, many stories were told about the bohemian artists, who lived and worked there. Such artists such as Van Gogh, Renoir, and Gauguin would meet in bars together and drink absinthe, perhaps to enhance their senses to be able to paint better.

By lovealot — On Aug 02, 2011

I've had one experience with anisette. While visiting Greece as a young adult, I had a drink of ouzo. This is a very popular drink in Greece. I added water to it, but it was very strong ... I decided my taste tended more toward sangria and gin and tonic.

I prefer to use the aniseed to flavor candy and cookies to get that liquorice flavor. Does anyone else use aniseed for flavoring other food?

By wavy58 — On Aug 02, 2011

I prefer good, strong, old-fashioned drinks to light and fluffy coolers. That’s why I admire the bold, masculine flavor of anise. It can take just about any drink and make it stout.

I make one drink in particular that I consider appropriate for my poker buddies. I use the old style beer mugs that are thick and frosted with large handles. I start by putting ice in the mugs.

Then, I pour a healthy dash of anisette, a big splash of bourbon, and a touch of sweet vermouth into the mugs. I squeeze lemon juice over the whole thing for an extra tangy kick.

By OeKc05 — On Aug 01, 2011

I have a recipe for an anisette drink that will punch your taste buds into high gear. Be aware that you need to drink this when you have a place to stay put overnight, because it will most likely inebriate you quickly.

I put one half ounce of anisette, one and a half ounces of rum, one teaspoon of grenadine for cherry flavor, and one half ounce of lemon juice into a cocktail shaker. I add some crushed ice. Then, I shake it really well. I pour it into a pretty cocktail glass and offer it to overnight guests only.

By lighth0se33 — On Jul 31, 2011

The bold flavor of anisette goes surprisingly well with the taste of lime. You wouldn’t think that a licorice flavored drink would be complemented by something so strong and different, but in my opinion, it’s great.

I fill a glass halfway with crushed ice. Then, I take two fresh limes and squeeze their juices over it. I add three ounces of anisette and stir it well. As a final touch, I cut a wedge from another lime and use it to garnish the glass.

This lime drink tastes great when served with tortilla chips or corn chips. Offer some salsa or pico de gallo on the side to make it even better.

By cloudel — On Jul 31, 2011

I did not think that I would like any drink containing anisette, because I do not like black licorice. However, when my friend showed me the list of other ingredients, I decided to try it. How could it be bad when it contains Irish cream and coffee?

She poured one-half ounce of anisette, one ounce of Irish cream, and one-half ounce of Kahlua into a coffee mug. She then moistened its rim with lime and dipped it in sugar. Next, she filled the rest of the mug with three ounces of coffee and topped it with whipped cream. This taste absolutely surprised me, and it has become my favorite drink.

By sunnySkys — On Jul 30, 2011

@indemnifyme - Don't feel too badly, I can't hold my liquor very well either.

I think it's interesting all these drinks popped up as replacements for absinthe. I don’t really see what the big deal is!

I personally know a few people who have managed to get their hands on absinthe, and none of them experienced hallucinations. I think maybe people get themselves all hyped up to have hallucinations when they drink absinthe and they just imagine it!

By indemnifyme — On Jul 29, 2011

When I was in high school I had a good friend whose family was Greek. They loved their Ouzo!

I tried it a few times, and I must say, that stuff is strong. I do like the flavor, but I could never have more than one or two servings of Ouzo without getting too drunk. Meanwhile my friend's family would drink that stuff like it was water and never seem to get more than a little buzzed.

By summing — On Jul 28, 2011

I used to date a girl who only ever drank a French anise flavored liqueur called pastis. The liquid is yellow and it is served at room temperature. You mix in water to dilute it and then sip it slowly. She always used to say that it was as refreshing as lemonade. I could never agree. Give me a cold beer any day.

What was weird was not that she liked this so much but that she liked this and nothing else. Seriously, I never once saw this girl take a sip of wine or beer or an ordinary cocktail. It was all pastis all the time. I used to by her bottles from a specialty liquor store near my house. I wish she had been obsessed with a less expensive drink.

By backdraft — On Jul 27, 2011

I can't believe how many different liqueurs are made from anise seeds. I can think of at least 5 off the top of my head and I am sure there are others. It seems like every European country has created their own signature version. Here is America we mostly think of Jagermeister but there are so many others. I am personally not a fan of any of these drinks or black licorice in general. Obviously someone is though.

By whiteplane — On Jul 27, 2011

My grandfather was French and I think he drank anisette or some form of it almost every day of his life. I can't think of a single time I saw him during the evening when he wasn't sipping on a glass of this strong smelling liqueur. I actually kind of associate my grandfather with the smell of licorice because this was always on his breath.

You might be thinking that my grandfather was an alcoholic but this was a really innocent thing. He would drink it regularly but never heavily. I think it just reminded him of home. I have tried the stuff several times my self and didn't like it but I keep a bottle around my kitchen as a reminder of my grandfather.

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