Malay Spices - Star Anise (Bunga Lawang)
I came across information about star anise on Wikipedia and also some other related spices journals.
Its unique shape attracted me to make this spice the special icon on my web site.
The spice is the almost ripe, dried, star-shaped multiple fruit of the tree Illicium verum, which is a member of the magnolia family (Magnoliaceae). The small, red-brown, star-shaped fruits contain 6-8 unevenly sized, boat-shaped individual fruits 12-17 mm in length, each containing a glossy brown, egg-shaped seed. The fruits contain the same essential oil as aniseeds.
The tree is also called the "Indian Almond". The tree can grow up to 25 feet (8 metres). It is an evergreen that will grow out of seeds and cultivated that way.
The fruit is quite small, only about 1 1/4 inches tall (3 cm). It grows in the shape of a star, with anywhere from 5 to 10 points, though the average is a minimum of 8 points. The fruit is picked unripe, then dried in the sun to a brown colour. The fruit is always dried, and never eaten fresh.
True star anise (Illicium verum) which is native to southern China may be confused with the aniseed star (Illicium anisatum) which is found in Japan. Aniseed star from Japan is known as shikimi and it is toxic for human consumption. Instead it is used as one of the ingredients for making incense.
The first part of its botanical name, Illicium, comes from the Latin word "illicere", meaning "allure", referring perhaps to the sweet aroma.
In some old recipes, it may be referred to as "Badian Anise". Badian means star anise in Marathi, an Indian dialect.
Chinese five spice powder uses this spice as one of the ingredients. In western cooking, it is sometimes used as a substitute for anise which is more expensive. You may substitutes it with anise, but use about 1/3 more.
China is still the major exporter, though this plant is grows well in the Philippines and even in Jamaica.
This spice has the strong taste of liquorice. As it imparts intense flavor, you do not eat the fruit itself, it is discarded because the taste is bitter.
Please do not worry of accidentally consuming the toxic version aniseed star in your curry because I have never heard of one single case so far.
I guess it is enough facts for now on bunga lawang. Let's move on to other spices.
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