If you are either a) a Singaporean b) have eaten Singaporean food in the past c) love your spices, you would surely have encountered star anise some way or another. It could be in the flesh as the eight-pointed brown star or in some of your favourite hawker delights like Bah Kut Teh and even in Malay cuisine like the Rendang. Some of you might perhaps even recognise Star Anise as part of the five unique spices in the Chinese Five Spice given how it promises a smoky unique flavour. But we have to admit, star anise is an acquired taste and it could very easily rub some the wrong way. Given how it is used in herbal concoctions and in a number of our favourite Singaporean dishes, surely there is some form of health benefits that star anise brings. Let us have a closer look at how this exotic spice could radically change our lives for the better.
What Is Star Anise?
As its name would suggest, star anise is called the eight-horned anise precisely because of its eight jutting arms that resemble a star. This spice is native to certain regions within Vietnam and China and comes as a fruit from the Illicium verum tree (this would explain why it is so commonly used in Chinese cuisine and in herbal treatments). If you were to encounter the tree in person, you would discover that the tree has the potential to grow as high as 10.5 meters. Oddly enough, the leaves are considered poisonous but the fruit of the tree, as we know as star anise, can be eaten fresh from the tree or dried.
To discover when star anise was first used in Chinese medicine, we would probably have to go back several millenniums back as it was first used around 3000 years ago. Similarly, the Greeks and Romans also discovered how star anise could be used as an energy booster when used in small careful amounts. Today, star anise is well-regarded in modern kitchens and you are bound to find it in places like curry and even in biryani rice.
Benefits of Star Anise
The reason why star anise is used regularly in Chinese medicine is down to the wide range of health benefits that the spice brings. Some of which include a boost to our immunity, helping with sleep and the promotion of healthy skin. It has been found that these health benefits are because of the compounds in star anise like anethole, quercetin, limonene, linalool and alpha-pinene that affords star anise its wondrous benefits. Read on to discover more about the eight-horned anise.
Protects Your Skin
Thanks to the high levels of antioxidant and the compound of linalool in star anise, it has been found that they work together to neutralise the free radicals and protect the body from cellular damage inflicted by the harmful free radicals. As you would have known, this would be exceptionally beneficial for our skin as the signs of ageing would be reduced and this means your wrinkles and fine lines would be less prominent. The vitamin C in star anise is also going to help in the production of collagen which would help prevent premature ageing from happening. All the same, vitamin A is as important in minimising any scarring that could have resulted from acne or stretch marks, maintaining the wellbeing of your skin.
Boost Your Immune System
You have to appreciate the many vitamins and nutrients in star anise. Another one that you have to give thanks to is the shikimic acid in star anise. What shikimic acid does is to ensure that you run a much lower risk of contracting the flu. Together with the antioxidants, you will find your immunity boosted and your likelihood of catching a cold in the office is severely reduced.
Improves Your Sleep
Insomnia could strike anyone and comes from many issues and even a combination of them, but most of the time, the root cause of your sleeplessness is anxiety and stress. Even if you are fit and healthy, you may still find yourself worrying about the many things in life like the bills, work-related issues or even how Trump is still barking orders at the White House. All these worrying actually cause you to be stimulated and that inhibits sleep. How star anise helps is by maintaining the levels of some of the neurotransmitters and hormones in your body and that helps calm your body down with a sedative-like effect. How you can consume star anise is by fixing yourself a nice warm tea infused with star anise and you would observe the difference in no time.
By now, you would have known how effective star anise could be to our health. At the same time, if you are worried how your guests might take to this flavourful spice, go easy on the star anise and let them unravel the flavour of star anise slowly with a light touch. Try out a simple biryani dish otherwise, adding a little star anise into your pork belly or meat dish would be a surefire way to add a nice smoky kick to it.