What are the best substitutes for anise seed? Star anise has a stronger flavor than anise seed, but it is the best substitute if used sparingly. Other alternatives that will impart the required licorice flavor to dishes include fennel seed, caraway seed, anise oil, licorice root powder, fresh tarragon, Chinese 5-spice, and cloves.
Anise seed imparts a licorice flavor and subtle sweetness to dishes and drinks. It is famous as a distinctive ingredient in ouzo and Sambuca, but it is also often used in pastries and baked goods. There is evidence that this strongly flavored spice has been used as flavoring since around 1500BC.
Most well-stocked grocery stores usually carry anise seed, either whole or ground. If possible, always buy whole seeds and grind them shortly before use to produce the freshest flavor.
If you don’t have anise seed on hand and need a similar hint of licorice goodness, the following substitutes will deliver a similar taste experience.
The Best Anise Seed Substitutes
The best substitute for anise seed is star anise, but it has a much stronger taste, so it must be carefully measured when making the swap.
Star anise has a similar name to anise seed, but the two are not the same and should not be confused.
Star anise has a much more potent flavor, but if you substitute it sparingly in recipes that require anise seed, it will impart a similar taste.
Use one small flower-shaped star anise pod to substitute per ½ a teaspoon of anise seed required.
Although star anise is entirely unrelated to anise seed, both contain the distinctive licorice-tasting compound anethole. Star anise is frequently used in Chinese dishes and is less expensive than anise seed.
Hot on the heels of star anise seed, as the best substitute for anise seed, is fennel seed. In fact, its taste is so similar that it is often referred to as sweet anise.
Strangely, despite being called sweet anise, fennel seed is not as sweet as anise and also has a notably milder flavor.
It imparts a more woody essence to dishes than anise seed, but the presence of anethole still delivers the unmistakable hint of licorice that you need.
Fennel seed is a similar strength to anise seed, so it can be substituted at the same amount as the recipe requires.
Next up in our list of substitutes for anise seed is caraway seed.
Although caraway seeds are called ‘seeds,’ they are, in fact, the fruit of the plant, and inside each pod, there is a single seed.
The taste of caraway is reminiscent of anise seed, and it does have the required licorice taste of anise seed. However, caraway also has a slightly citrusy element, so substitutions work best in savory dishes, like sauces and meats.
Caraway seed can be substituted at the equivalent amount of anise seed required by the recipe, so 1 to 1.
If you can’t get hold of anise seed, but need the distinctive licorice flavor, try adding a dash of anise oil.
Anise oil is very concentrated, so a little goes a long way. Be careful not to add too much and overpower all the other flavors in the dish.
Also, be attentive when buying anise oil so you don’t accidentally purchase star anise oil. Although the two have some taste overlaps, anise seed and star anise seed are not from the same plant.
Anise oil is an excellent substitute for anise seed to get the required, familiar taste in products that need a super-fine consistency, like hard candy or frosting.
Licorice Root Powder
Licorice root powder isn’t only a handy supplement that can be used to relieve ailments like coughs and heartburn; it can also act as a stand-in for anise seed.
The two ingredients taste so similar that many licorice-flavored sweet treats are made with anise seed rather than actual licorice root.
Licorice root powder works particularly well as a replacement for anise seed in confectionary and sweet meat dishes, like pork.
Licorice powder can be used as a substitute for anise seed at a ratio of 1 to 1.
Fresh Chopped Tarragon
If you need the taste of anise in a recipe but don’t have any on hand, grab a bunch of fresh tarragon!
Surprisingly, this green herb tastes like a combination of fennel and anise with distinctive licorice overtones.
For every half a teaspoon of anise seeds required by the recipe, substitute one full teaspoon of chopped tarragon.
Of course, this only works for recipes that can accommodate the inclusion of fresh herbs. This substitution works effectively in fish and chicken dishes.
Chinese Five-Spice Powder
Although the popular Chinese Five-Spice powder doesn’t actually contain any anise seed, it has two ingredients that have the distinctive licorice flavor reminiscent of anise seed.
When added to dishes, the combination of star anise seed plus fennel mixed with the cloves, cinnamon, and peppercorns lends a piquant note that is a worthy stand-in when you don’t have anise seed available.
If you use Chinese Five-Spice instead of anise seed, remember that it also contains cinnamon, which may not go with all dishes.
This spice gives an interesting depth of flavors to food, but the licorice taste one associates with anise seed does come through.
Chinese Five-Spice powder can be substituted for anise seed in recipes at a 1-to-1 ratio.
If you are cooking and need a strong flavor reminiscent of anise seed, you can try cloves. The aroma is rich and aromatic.
While you may not get an exact taste match, if you are cooking for the festive season, the distinctive smell of cloves can be a good alternative choice if you don’t have anise seed.
This substitution would work best when cooking rather than baking, as cloves can deliver a slightly bitter aftertaste that doesn’t work well with sweet treats.
While some sources indicate that cloves can be used instead of anise seed at a 1-to-1 ratio, we have found that ground cloves are notoriously strong. Use it sparingly as a substitution for anise seed in recipes.