Illicium Verum, you are the star of spices and also the star of our Scent & Flavor homepage. You are originated from China where you are called bājiao (八角), meaning eight horns. There, you are the secret of delicious gravies, usually combined with cassia, cloves, Sichuan peppers and fennel seeds in a five-spices seasoning. You are also a major component of the Traditional Chinese Medicine pharmacopeia, helpful to warm the yang energy and dissipate cold, regulate qi (chi) and alleviate pain. Star anise, as you are called in English, you stimulate the digestive system and heal kidneys, spleen, liver and stomach troubles. Drunk as a tea, you are a common cure for common cold and cough. You are also said to bring good luck, love, and money. You are truly a Mother Nature’s gift.
Star anise (Illicium verum) is sometimes confused with common anise (Pimpinella anisum), also known as aniseed. Both plants are botanically very different, but the characteristic smell of both spices is similar and comes from anethole, an organic compound also found in fennel, camphor, licorice, and absinthe. Both spices are the flavor source of Mediterranean liquors such as Ouzo from Greece and Pastis from South of France. The cloudy appearance of the beverage comes from anethole forming a microemulsion with water, while this one is poured into the glass.
Commercial production of star anise is limited to China and Vietnam. The plant is an evergreen tree reaching up to fifteen meters. Flowers are solitary and pink. Fruits are star-shaped, reddish-brown consisting of six to eight carpels arranged in a whorl. Each carpel contains a brown, smooth, shiny and brittle seed. In Chinese and Indian cooking, the whole fruit in its shell is cooked in gravies and curries.
Star anise essential oil is obtained by the steam distillation of the dried seeds. It is a pale-yellow and fluid oil with a strong aroma. Even if the oil is recognized as generally safe (GRAS), some direct contact with skin should be avoided unless the EO is diluted in a base oil. In modern aromatherapy, Star Anise essential oil is used for its carminative, digestive, stimulant and diuretic properties. It is also useful for skin conditions, to reduce stress-related fatigue and to improve women’s menstruation pains.
In perfumery, star anise essential oil is used as a top or heart note, usually in a blend of spices for oriental fragrances. Star anise is also called “badian” or “badiane” in the French language, which means that some fragrances can be found using this name as well.
Perfumes with a distinct note of star anise will be my pick of the week:
Mandragore and Mandragore Pourpre from Annick Goutal are on my overall list of favorite fragrances. Both are enchanting woody-spicy-aromatic blends with bergamot, star anise and patchouli as primary notes. Mandragore Pourpre is a revisited version from 2009 with more complexity and a stronger spice content, and a soft ambery base too. I like both, with a slight preference for the “Pourpre” edition.
A recent acquisition of mine, Panthère – Eau de Parfum Edition Limitée by Cartier is, for me, a new wonder from this high-class house. Perfumer Mathilde Laurent pushed the juice further with this special edition launched in 2016. This delicate feminine perfume, which I believe to be actually unisex (as I bought it for me), has a top note of anise which is very interesting when blending with the rest of this floral chypre. From the same house, try the fantastic line of Heures de Parfum which I really love.
Lumière Blanche, by the reputed niche fragrance house of Olfactive Studio, reminds me of the anise liquors with its cloudy-white appearance. This is a spicy juice with a distinct note of star anise blended with cardamom and cinnamon, on a bed of precious woods, with some sweet almond and iris notes in the heart. A lovely fragrance for winter days, when the daylight becomes a valuable commodity.
Fou d’Absinthe by the respected house of L’Artisan Parfumeur is another eloge to anethole. Star Anise is teaming with pine needles and patchouli in a successful attempt to transport us back to the time when the Green Fairy (aka absinthe) was the symbol of “bohemian culture” and the common addiction of the artists of old Europe. Being born in Switzerland where absinthe was collected and distilled illegally by our farmers until recently (now legalized), I have a particular feeling for this mythical plant and its related note. Try also Tea for Two from L’Artisan; it also has a noticeable note of star anise, a bit more hidden, though. This unisex juice is outstanding to all of us who like fine teas.
Here you are my friends, lots of new fragrances to test. I’m gonna right now get a glass of Pernod and enjoy the drinkable version of this fabulous note of star anise.
Cheers and see you next week.