Star anise is indigenous to southeastern China, but is also cultivated in Vietnam and in India, where it is known as ba jiao and badian khatai, respectively. Oddly, this species of tree is also found in New South Wales along the eastern coast of Australia. However, this spice should not be confused with Japanese star anise (Illicium anisatum), which is highly toxic.
In China, star anise is a key ingredient in savory dishes and in foods prepared using a method referred to as “red” cooking. Typically, these are stews that consist of meat and vegetables (and sometimes boiled eggs) that are braised for 20 minutes to produce hongshao or for several hours to achieve lu. In either case, and as the cooking term suggests, the end result is tender, flavorful and takes on a red color from the combination of soy sauce, fermented bean paste and spices.
Star anise is also used to flavor several types of liquors, such as French pastis and sambuca and Galliano from Italy.
Although the small tree that star anise is harvested from can continue to produce fruit for as long as 100 years, it takes at least six years before the first pod appears.