5 Best Star Anise Substitutes [Easy Ingredient Alternatives]

Star anise has a unique flavor and aroma that is unlike many other ingredients. So what happens if you don’t have any to hand? Find out everything you need to know with our guide to the best star anise substitutes.

star anise

Star anise is a popular star-shaped spice in Indian, Chinese, and Southeast Asian cuisine. Although it is not related to the similarly-named anise seed, the two share a similar flavor because they both have the compound anethole. It is used in savory dishes such as biryani and pho and spiced drinks such as mulled wine.

The distinctive herbal, licorice-like flavor of star anise is a crucial ingredient in many dishes. It is a staple of many Asian cuisines, as shown by its presence in the Chinese spice blend five-spice. If you skip it in a dish, you will miss out on an aromatic floral note that helps finish a dish.

Star anise can be hard to find in your local grocery store unless you have a decently stocked spice aisle. Luckily, there are a few herbs and spices with similar aromatic notes that you can use as a substitute.

The best substitutes for star anise are spices that have similar herbal, licorice-like aromas. You can try using anise or fennel, which have similar flavor profiles (anise even has a similar chemical makeup). Or, buy Chinese five-spice powder, which contains star anise among other spices. 

Organic Chinese Five Spice in a Bowl

Chinese Five Spice

Chinese five-spice is a mixture of five different spices. Sometimes there are more, but they all make up five different colors of the mixture, and it is a standard fixture in Asian cuisine recipes. Simply put, it is a blend of ground spices used for seasoning food such as stews and broths, much like star anise. In most cases, this blend of herbs has no fat, gluten, animal products, or dairy.

Chinese five-spice is usually made of the following ingredients; Szechuan peppercorns, ground cloves, fennel, cinnamon, and star anise. These ingredients are not written in stone, but you can replace them with others to add the same flavor. The ingredients may differ according to geographical location and what is available in those parts. 

It has sweet tones, with spicy undertones because of the cinnamon. The Setzuan peppercorns add a pepper-like flavor. 

Star anise adds licorice-like flavor, with a bit of a bitter undertone. For each star anise, you may use ½ a teaspoon of Chinese five-spice powder. It’s a great alternative to star anise because of the similar notes, such as sweetness.

Anise seeds on wooden spoon

Anise Seeds

Anise seed is also known as anise seed, and it is a native plant from the eastern Mediterranean and the southwest of Asia. You can either use it as a whole or as a ground spice. It is taken from the Pimpinella anisum plant. They look like fennel seeds, but they are smaller.

Anise seeds have a slight taste of licorice. The taste may be similar to star anise, but the two should not be confused. They are different. It’s a strong flavor that can’t be ignored, and so if you are not a fan of it, this may not be the spice for you to use. 

If you want to substitute star anise with anise seed, you can use one teaspoon anise seed for every two crushed star anise. The licorice-like taste, which is similar to star anise, is what makes this a sensible substitute.

Ground Cloves Spilled from a Teaspoon

Ground Cloves

These are dried, unopened flower buds from the clove tree that are used as a spice in various foods. They are picked when they are still immature and then dried. You can either use them whole or ground. 

They have a very intense flavor, and they have a sweet yet bitter and also astringent taste. It also has a bit of kick to it. It’s almost like what you experience with ginger root, which helps bring the heat to a dish. 

The warmth is also akin to what you would get with nutmeg. However, cloves are so much more potent, and for some, it’s a little more than they can handle. Thus, it’s essential to know what taste you are expecting and what amount of cloves to add to get the desired result. The best approach is to grind dried cloves with a mortar and pestle, and gradually add them to your dish.

It is important to remember that cloves will not give you the same licorice flavor that star anise will provide. You can mix an equal amount of ground cloves as a substitute for star anise. It works as a great substitute because it can lend similar amounts of sweetness and bitterness to the dish as you would get with star anise.

Closeup of fennel seeds in a glass bowl

Fennel Seeds

Fennel seeds are taken from the fennel plant. They are then dried and incorporated into different recipes. They are long and thin and are usually pale green or brown. They have a sweet licorice-like flavor that’s similar to anise seed, which is why anise is also a fantastic fennel seed substitute.

You can mix 1 ½ teaspoon of fennel seeds mixed with anise seeds for every one teaspoon of star anise seeds. They work well as a substitute because they have a similar licorice flavor as you find in star anise. The sweetness also makes these seeds a great alternative.

Caraway Seeds

caraway seed

These seeds are also known as Persian cumin or meridian fennel. These seeds are the dried fruit from the caraway plant. It’s native to Eastern and Central Europe, the Mediterranean, North Africa, and Western Asia. They can either be used whole or ground.

They are often used as seasoning whole, or they can be ground and used in recipes. It has a vast array of flavors, including a minty and pepper-like type of flavor. Caraway seeds have a similar pepper-like taste to star anise. They are also equally bitter. 

You can combine caraway seeds with tarragon to develop a similar flavor as what you would get with star anise. You can use ½ a teaspoon of caraway seeds and tarragon mixture in place of 1 teaspoon of star anise.