Anise extract is best known for its strong licorice flavor and it is commonly used in cooking and baking, especially to flavor cookies and cakes. Most varieties of this extract are pure and made from natural ingredients. Anise is an aromatic herb with licorice-flavored seeds that is native to the Mediterranean area. Anise extract is made from tincture from star anise or anise.
Extracts are made from many food or herb sources ranging from beef, wine or vanilla to herbs such as anise, peppermint, ginger, nutmeg or cinnamon. These are all concentrated flavoring agents.
To make wine essence or beef extract, you reduce the liquid to syrup form. Peppermint, anise and vanilla extracts are made by dissolving the spice or flavoring oil in alcohol. It's possible to make extracts, fruit liqueurs or flavored sugars at home by infusing spices and fruit peels in rum, vodka or other liquors.
Anise extract is made by filling a half-pint canning jar with whole star anise and then covering it with vodka. It can be left indefinitely if stored in a cool, dark place; screw the lid on tightly.
In cooking, there are many possible substitutes for anise extract, including anise-flavored liqueur (substitute 1 to 2 tbsp. liqueur for each tsp. of anise extract); anise seed or aniseed (2 tsp. ground anise seed equals 1 tsp. of anise extract); or anise oil (one part flavoring oil equals four parts extract). Vanilla extract can also be used.
Anise was used as a flavoring agent or spice by Romans, Greeks and Egyptians. Another historical tidbit--anise flavor was so popular by the early 1300s that the tolls charged for imports of anise seed amounted to enough to help pay for London Bridge repairs.
Anise extract is widely used in baked goods worldwide, as well as to flavor liqueurs or liquor. It is is a key ingredient in homemade Absinthe or Galliano liquors, as well as Greek ouzo, French anisette and Turkish arrak and taki. In baking, biscotti, pizelle, pfefferneusse peppernut cookies and anise tuiles are enhanced with anise's distinctive flavor. Some people enjoy adding a bit of anise extract to any cookie batter or coffee cake. Anise extract can work well in anything baked with spices like cloves, cinnamon or nutmeg.
One of the most unusual uses for anise extract is as a bait additive for catching fish. Many fishermen claim that when they add some anise extract to their bait, they are able to catch more fish. Some cooks also claim that a dash of anise extract adds a noteworthy additional flavor to Oysters Rockefeller.