I have a question about the ingredient "whole star anise" on the recipe "Spiced Maple Pecan Pie with Star Anise" from merrill. what is this
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It's a lovely spice often found in Chinese Five Spice Powder. It's reasonably popular -- you should be able to find it at most grocery stores!
Although unrelated botanically, liquorice, anise, star anise, and fennel share a similar flavor profile due to the chemical anethole, common to all. Star anise has a strongest flavor among them.
If you have a Mexican market nearby, or your grocery store has a Mexican spice section, look for it there where it will cost you a quarter of what you'll pay for Spice Islands brand in the regular spice section.