I’ve written a lot about various replacements for all sorts of vegetables, herbs, meats, juices and so much more but writing about substitutes for star anise is one of the hardest subjects up to now.
Every spice has such a unique flavor and its own unique role during cooking. It won’t be easy to find the best substitutes for star anise.
The best we can do is to try to get close to providing a flavorful replacement that won’t make us feel like we’re missing something in our recipe.
We could say that star anise is the prettiest spice in the world. It is shaped like a lacy 8-pointed star with a seed in each segment. It’s not impossible to find a good substitute but it’s not going to be the same.
My Favorite Substitutes for Star Anise
1. Anise seed: McCormick Culinary Whole Anise Seed
One of the best substitutes for star anise is anise seed. The difference is that anise seed doesn’t have such a strong flavor but it does have a similar taste to star anise. That’s what makes it such a good replacement. You can use 1/2 teaspoon anise seed instead of 1 whole star anise.
2. Chinese five spice powder: McCormick Culinary Chinese Five Spice
Another wonderful choice for savory dishes is to use Chinese five spice powder as a substitute. The powder is made from star anise, cloves, fennel, cinnamon and Sichuan peppercorns/white pepper. The flavor is obviously different because it’s a mix of spices but it works as a star anise substitute in all sorts of savory dishes. It’s also used in spice cakes, muffins and cookies.
3. Anise extract: OliveNation Star Anise Flavor Extract
The only thing you must keep in mind is that all extracts contain alcohol, that’s how they’re made. You can also make your own at home if you buy star anise and some cheap, flavorless vodka. It works great for a wide range of savory dishes, desserts and drinks. Use 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoons of anise extract to substitute 1 whole star anise.
4. Star anise: Indian Spice Star Anise
This is a good choice for those who actually can buy an actual bag of star anise. The quantity is considerable so you get 3.5 oz of beautiful, whole star anise for a pretty good price.
Top 10 Substitutes for Star Anise
As my 2 favorites, I recommend anise seed and Chinese five spice powder. Next, comes fennel seeds.
If you don’t have any of these 3, you can go for cloves, as long as the recipe doesn’t already include cloves.
Or use anise extract if you can’t find anything else. Although, I would imagine that if you can’t find star anise, you won’t have a better chance of finding anise extract either.
1. Anise seed: Top Substitute for Star Anise
If you can’t find whole star anise, get the next best thing to use as a substitute.
That is anise seed.
You can even find the organic kind nowadays, as you can for all other species.
Use 1/2 teaspoon of anise seed (2 ml) to replace 1 whole star anise.
Many people buy anise seed to drink as tea or to grind them together with coffee beans but it works for cooking a variety of dishes, too.
The seeds have a strong licorice-like taste but they also have a herbal, sweet aroma. However, anise actually comes from an Anise plant in the parsley family.
Star anise has a much stronger flavor.
Nevertheless, they both contain an essential oil called anethole. That’s why they have a similar flavor profile. Enough for these seeds to be a good substitute.
These seeds are also used for making desserts.
2. Chinese five spice powder: Second Favorite Substitute for Star Anise
The ingredients for Chinese five spice powder are: star anise, cloves, fennel, cinnamon, and Sichuan peppercorns.
However, in some mixes, the Sichuan peppercorns are also replaced with white pepper. You’ll find that most mixes contain white pepper and not Sichuan peppercorns.
I consider the Chinese five spice powder to be one of the best substitutes for star anise since that’s its main ingredient.
You can use 1/2 teaspoons of Chinese five spice powder to replace 1 whole star anise.
3. Fennel seeds
Let’s be clear: I don’t consider fennel seeds to be one of the best substitutes for star anise, I much prefer the above 2 options.
First of all, they don’t have that much in common when it comes to taste.
What made me recommend it is that fennel is also a spice that has a mild licorice flavor. But it’s a lot more delicate, sweeter, much milder.
For me, these 2 spices don’t have a similar taste although on paper it might seem different. Especially, since they both contain an essential oil called anethole.
Secondly, if the recipe already includes both fennel and star anise and you don’t have the latter, then you’ll just be adding more fennel seeds, which will lead to using too much fennel. That poses the risk of ruining the taste balance that you’re trying to achieve.
So, substitute fennel for star anise only if the recipe doesn’t already include fennel seeds.
You can use 3/4 teaspoons of fennel seeds to replace 1 whole star anise.
4. Can you use cloves instead of star anise?
You can use cloves if you have nothing else around but you won’t get that licorice flavor.
You can use them in a 1:1 substitute.
However, if the recipe calls for both cloves and star anise, it won’t do you any good to add more cloves to the recipe.
After all, cloves have a sweet, bitter, astringent, and spicy taste. It’s similar to cinnamon, nutmeg, and allspice.
Whole cloves can work as a substitute for star anise in fruit preserves and compotes.
5. Anise extract
There is a thing called anise extract.
You can make whatever extract you want at home from the ingredient you want to extract flavor from and cheap, flavorless vodka. That’s all you need. And plenty of patience because the process takes a couple of months.
However, since they contain alcohol, they’re not a suitable choice for those who are living an alcohol-free life.
You can use 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon of anise extract as a replacement.
It will go well in marinades, desserts, drinks but I wouldn’t exactly use it to make pho.
For recipes like pho, I would recommend sticking to Chinese five spice powder, anise seed, or maybe even fennel seeds as a last resort.
6. Caraway seeds
Do caraway seeds and star anise have anything in common?
Like it’s the case with all spices and herbs, each one is different.
Caraway seeds have a nutty, bittersweet sharpness with a hint of citrus, pepper, and anise (mild licorice). It is also known as meridian fennel and Persian cumin.
It tastes different to start anise, fennel, and cumin but it can work as a substitute for all three.
Can you still use caraway seed as a substitute for star anise in pretty much any recipe?
You can. Don’t expect a similar flavor profile but it comes close enough that it can work as a substitute if nothing else is available.
Use 3/4 teaspoons for 1 whole star anise.
7. Anise seed + fennel seeds
If you have both and you’re in the mood to make a mix, combine these two seeds.
However, if you have anise seed, I would just recommend using 1/2 teaspoons anise seed for 1 whole star anise and save yourself any more complications.
Or use 1/2 teaspoons Chinese five spice powder for 1 whole star anise. That would work nicely, too.
8. Anise/Licorice liqueur
This is the kind of substitute for star anise that you can add to mulled wine.
Still, it’s much easier to skip the star anise if you don’t have any and just use some cinnamon sticks, some orange peel, and cloves.
You’ll still be able to make a delicious mulled wine and you won’t need to go through the trouble of buying anise or licorice liqueur.
Use 1 tbsp. anise or licorice liqueur to replace 1 whole star.
This is a spice made made from the dried berries of a plant known as Pimenta dioica. It’s a member of the myrtle family.
It’s also known as the Jamaica pepper, myrtle pepper, pimenta, or pimento.
The flavor will remind you of cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, and pepper.
It’s not exactly what we would call a perfect substitute for star anise. Use it only as a last resort and keep in mind that it won’t be similar at all.
Maybe combine a bit of allspice with fennel seeds. The good news is that allspice and fennel seeds are pretty easy to find in many places around the world so you can combine the two without changing the overall taste of the recipe.
Another combination I would make is: add a pinch of all spice to 1/2 teaspoons anis seed to replace 1 whole star anise.
If you only have allspice and absolutely nothing else, use the same measurement for substituting these spices: 3/4 teaspoons for 1 whole star anise.
10. Chervil (French parsley)
I’m not entirely sure that a lot of people have heard of chervil. It’s certainly not a well known herb as parsley, rosemary, basil, dill, cilantro, lavander, etc.
However, if you find yourself in a country where chervil is a popular herb, you should know that it can quality as a substitute for star anise.
Chervil looks a bit like parsley so, just based on how their leaves look, you might easily confuse the two.
Moreover, chervil is sometimes called French parsley. They’re indeed quite similar in appearance.
In fact, chervil tastes a bit like parsley but with a gentle, aniseedy warmth. Thus, if you enjoy more subtle anise flavors, chervil might be awesome for your dishes.
Chervil shares one of the same aromatic compounds as tarragon. That’s where it gets its delicate anise flavor.
Of course, if you’re truly curious about this refined herb but you can’t find it anywhere, you could try growing it at home if you can find some seeds to buy.
Substitute for star anise in pho
The spices used in a pho recipe are: cinnamon sticks, cardamom pods, cilantro seeds, whole cloves, and star anise.
If you’re willing to go through all that trouble and make pho at home then I suggest just spending the extra time and money and getting some star anise. It’s an important part of this recipe and the quantity of spices used is quite considerable.
Even so, if you’re still thinking of using a replacement, my first recommendation would be to just skip it.
If you still insist on using another spice as a substitute for star anise in pho, you can use::
- anise seed or Chinese five spice powder (1/2 teaspoons for 1 whole star anise)
- or fennel seeds (3/4 teaspoons for 1 whole star anise)
Or you can try making this chicken pho recipe from spicesinc.com that uses Chinese five spice powder and no other spices are required besides that mix.
These three substitutes that I’ve mentioned for pho also work for other Asian soups recipes.
Or for Biryani. And pretty much any other savory dish that calls for whole star anise.
Substitute for star anise in mulled wine
Just use cinnamon sticks, some orange peel, and cloves. Add some sugar if you like it sweet.
I recommend skipping the star anise from the mulled wine recipe if you don’t have it.
Of course, there are mulled wine spice mixes. Get one around the holidays if you have a big family and you’ll be able to enjoy mulled wine many days in a row without worrying about substitutes for star anise.
What does star anise taste like?
Star anise is an easily recognizable spice because it really has the form of a star. Although, to me it might also look like a beautiful, tiny, dried flower. It is actually the dried fruit of a small oriental tree.
It has other names, as well: star anise seeds, star aniseed, Chinese star anise, anise stars, Indian anise, etc.
Star anise smells and tastes like licorice. It’s both sweet and bitter.
In large amounts it can definitely be overpowering. Not even pho is an exception to that rule.
3 star anise are enough for making 10 servings of this renowned Vietnamese dish.
The Chinese five spice powder also relies heavily on it, this is the main ingredient in the mix.
Which is why the Chinese five spice powder remains one of my favorite substitutes, only outshined by a bit by anise seed. These two are my favorites.
It’s because it has such an unique, powerful flavor that it’s so hard to find substitutes for star anise but I hope that I’ve managed to offer some nice replacements for your recipe.