Get to know this aromatic yet often-overlooked spice.

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Star anise might be the most unappreciated, underused spice. If you have a jar of these dark brown, flower-shaped seed pods in your spice rack, chances are, you probably don’t know what the heck to do with them.

Open the jar, take a sniff, and—if they’re still fresh—you’ll be reminded of black licorice. Many people compare star anise to anise seeds or fennel seeds, and while they have a similar aroma and flavor, star anise is stronger and sharper. Botanically speaking, these three spices are all very different—star anise comes from an evergreen tree, anise seeds come from a bush, and fennel seeds come from a bulb.

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Star anise is most commonly sold in whole pieces, but you can also buy it in broken pieces (which are usually cheaper) and in ground form. If you have Chinese five-spice powder, ground star anise is one of the five spices in this classic blend.

When cooking with star anise, a little bit goes a long way so use a light hand. (Which is why Chinese five-spice powder is a great way to cook with star anise, if you’re unfamiliar.) Add a pinch of ground star anise to your favorite apple pie or pumpkin bread recipe to give it extra depth and warmth. It often pairs well with dishes that have cinnamon or cloves.

Whole star anise looks lovely floating in a punch bowl or inside a jar of pickled fruits or vegetables. It can also be used as a mulling spice, or to make a spiced simple syrup.

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