Known as far back as at least 1500 B.C., this small annual plant is a member of the parsley family. Both the leaves and seed have a distinctive sweet licorice flavor. The greenish-brown oval anise seed perfumes and flavors a variety of confections as well as savory dishes. It's also used to flavor drinks such as pastis, arrack, anisette and ouzo. Anise seeds have been used as a digestive for centuries, and in India they're chewed after a meal not only for digestion but to sweeten breath. Anise seed plays an important role in the cooking of Southeast Asia. Chinese cooks are more likely to use star anise than the seed.
From The Food Lover's Companion, Fourth edition by Sharon Tyler Herbst and Ron Herbst. Copyright © 2007, 2001, 1995, 1990 by Barron's Educational Series, Inc.