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Why Anise Seed, Fennel Seed, and Star Anise aren’t Interchangeable

By Andrew Janjigian Published

Each of these spices has a profile distinct from the others—and subbing one for another can make a big difference to your dish.

The licorice flavor and aroma of these three spices make them popular in all sorts of applications, from spice rubs to soups and braises to baked goods and desserts. Their licoricey character comes from high concentrations of the compound trans-anethole—the main flavor compound in licorice root. But don’t assume that similarity means these spices are interchangeable. Each comes from a different plant (and in the case of star anise, an entirely different scientific order) and features a different array of secondary compounds that give it a profile distinct from the others.

When we tried each spice in a biscotti recipe calling for anise seed, tasters easily picked out differences. They also quickly identified differences when we subbed in fennel and then anise seed in broth for pho originally calling for star anise. Distinctions were harder to detect in Italian sausage meatballs (the recipe called for fennel seeds), but that’s because the dish contained many other spices. Since you risk changing the character of a recipe if you sub one for the other, we don’t recommend it.

Anise seed (Pimpinella anisum)

  • Alias: aniseed 
    Profile: earthy and licorice-y
    Native to: Egypt
    Dominant flavor compound: trans-anethole (about 90%)
    Secondary flavor compounds: pseudoisoeugenol-2-methylbutyrate, estragole, p-anisaldehyde

Star anise (Illicium verum)

  • Profile: licorice-y with herbal, lemony, woody notes
    Native to: Northeast Vietnam and Southwest China
    Dominant flavor compound: trans-anethole (about 90%)
    Secondary flavor compounds: estragole, limonene, alpha-trans-bergamotene

Fennel seed (Foeniculum vulgare)


  • Profile:
    licorice-y with piney, camphor-like notes
    Native to: Southern Mediterranean
    Dominant flavor compound: trans-anethole (about 90%)
    Secondary flavor compounds: estragole, fenchone

Flavor Compound Key

The different nuances in their various flavor compounds make anise seed, fennel seed, and star anise taste quite distinct from one another.

Compound Flavor Notes

alpha-trans-bergamotene

citrusy, woody, tealike

estragole

licorice-y, herbal

fenchone

minty, piney, camphor-like

limonene

lemony, citrusy

pseudoisoeugenol-2-methylbutyrate

 

anisey

p-anisaldehyde

sweet, floral, vanilla-y

trans-anethole

licorice-y

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JOHN C.
16 days

Absolutely the best chicken ever, even the breast meat was moist! It's the only way I'll cook a whole chicken again. Simple, easy, quick, no mess - perfect every time. I've used both stainless steel and cast iron pans. great and easy technique for “roasted” chicken. I will say there were no pan juices, just fat in the skillet. Will add to the recipe rotation. Good for family and company dinners too. I've done this using a rimmed sheet pan instead of a skillet and put veggies and potatoes around the chicken for a one-pan meal. Broccoli gets nicely browned and yummy!

Absolutely the best chicken ever, even the breast meat was moist! It's the only way I'll cook a whole chicken again. Simple, easy, quick, no mess - perfect every time. I've used both stainless steel and cast iron pans. great and easy technique for “roasted” chicken. I will say there were no pan juices, just fat in the skillet. Will add to the recipe rotation. Good for family and company dinners too.

MD
MILES D.
JOHN C.
9 days

Amazed this recipe works out as well as it does. Would not have thought that the amount of time under the broiler would have produced a very juicy and favorable chicken with a very crispy crust. Used my 12" Lodge Cast Iron skillet (which can withstand 1000 degree temps to respond to those who wondered if it would work) and it turned out great. A "make again" as my family rates things. This is a great recipe, and I will definitely make it again. My butcher gladly butterflied the chicken for me, therefore I found it to be a fast and easy prep. I used my cast iron skillet- marvellous!

CM
CHARLES M.
11 days

John, wasn't it just amazing chicken? So much better than your typical oven baked chicken and on par if not better than gas or even charcoal grilled. It gets that smokey charcoal tasted and overnight koshering definitely helps, something I do when time permits. First-time I've pierced a whole chicken minus the times I make jerk chicken on the grill. Yup, the cast iron was not an issue.