By Harold McGee
Star anise is the strikingly starshaped woody fruit of a tree in the magnolia family, Illicium verum, a native of South China and Indochina. Its anise flavor comes from the same phenolic chemical, anethole, that flavors the entirely unrelated European anise. The fruit itself, which may have six to eight chambers, carries more of the flavor than the seeds, and the unripe fruit is traditionally chewed as a breath sweetener. One traditional and important use of star anise is in Chinese meat dishes simmered in soy sauce; when onions are included, the result is the production of sulfur-phenolic aromatics that intensify the meatiness of the dish.