Anise seed is a Mediterranean spice known for flavoring baked goods like cookies and cakes as well as liqueurs like ouzo and anisette. It offers a pungent flavor usually likened to that of licorice. If you want to make Italian treats like biscotti or pizzelle, you should keep some anise seed in your spice cabinet. The problem is that it is not always the easiest spice to find and can be relatively pricey. If you need anise seed and getting some is out of the question, use one of the anise seed substitutes below that can impart a similar flavor.
Your best bet: Star anise
Star anise is not related to anise seed, even though it shares its name. Its source is a medium-sized tree that grows in parts of Asia, not anything like the 3-foot tall shrub that produces anise seed. Despite the differences in their parent plants, anise seed and star anise have a very similar licorice flavor that makes them excellent substitutes for each other. Since star anise is both less expensive and easier to find, it is more commonly used as a substitute for anise seed than the other way around. In addition to being able to provide a similar flavor, star anise also offers some of the benefits that come with anise seeds such as the positive effects on digestion.
You can use one star anise pod (called a pericarp) in place of 1/2 teaspoon ground anise seeds, or grind your star anise and use the powder as a 1:1 anise seed substitute.
A decent second choice: Fennel seeds
Fennel seeds are often considered interchangeable with anise seeds. Unlike star anise, fennel seeds come from a flowering plant that is actually a member of the Apiaceae family just like anise. Fennel seeds have a licorice-type flavor that a close match to that of anise seeds; while it is a great substitute in most cases, it is an even better one in savory dishes. In other words, fennel seeds will be an even better anise seed substitute in Italian sausage and in pasta sauces.
Use the same amount of fennel seed that your recipe requires for anise seed. Increase the amount to taste if necessary.
In a pinch: Caraway seeds
Caraway seeds are another relative of anise seeds and have a similar flavor. They come from a small flowering plant similar in appearance to other members of the Apiaceae family. While the leaves and the roots of this plant are also edible, the seeds are the most widely used part. Caraway seeds are generally associated with rye bread; their flavor pairs particularly well with yeasty notes. It also pairs well with the other flavors in dishes that require anise seed; however, it is similar to fennel in that it is better suited to savory dishes and breads rather than anise seed’s sweeter applications. Use caraway seeds as an anise seed substitute in tomato-based dishes and for cooking pork.
Licorice root powder can provide a similar flavor to anise seed’s; in fact, more anise is used in most licorice candies than actual licorice. Licorice can be used to cook pork as well as poultry in addition to sweet dishes. It pairs well with ginger and mint.
Chinese five-spice powder will typically contain star anise as well as licorice in some cases. Both of those spices will typically dominate all the spices in the blend, which will give you a similar flavor to that of anise seed.