Aniseed grows in the Mediterranean in sheltered, sunny spots. The plant produces flowers similar to parsley. It bears a strong resemblance to dill, fennel, coriander, cumin and caraway, all of which have a slight liquorice flavour.
The seeds are oval, brown and ridged and are harvested from the plant in the autumn. They should not be confused with Chinese star anise which, although similar in taste and aroma, is not botanically related. Aniseed is available commercially, both as seeds, ground and also as oil. It is traditionally found in baked goods from around Europe.
At Christmas time in Germany, Springerle biscuits are made using flour, eggs, baking powder and icing sugar.
The ground aniseed is added either to the mixture or sprinkled on the baking tin. They have special rolling pins or moulds to press designs on the biscuits before they are baked. Aniseed can be added to breads, muffins, biscuits and tarts.
Why not make an orange and aniseed oatmeal bread by flavouring the dough with orange zest, orange juice and aniseeds? Add some crushed or ground aniseeds to panettone to give a subtle aniseed flavour or add a teaspoon of aniseeds to almond biscotti to give a liquorice flavour.
Fiona Burrell, co-author of Leiths Baking Bible, from the Leiths School of Food and Wine